The Russian Navy is training its combat pilots in the techniques of aerial refuelling for the first time in recent history, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) disclosed on 19 February.
Pilots from the Naval Aviation Directorate and the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets flying Sukhoi Su-30SM ‘Flanker’ and Su-24 ‘Fencer’ combat aircraft recently conducted more than 100 contacts with Ilyushin Il-78 ‘Midas’ tankers.
While Western navies have utilised air-to-air refuelling (AAR) for their combat aircraft for many decades now, this has been done to extend the operating radius of their carrier-based fighter and attack platforms. This has typically been done by fitting ‘buddy-buddy’ refuelling pods to carrier-based aircraft, and through the use of land-based tankers when feasible.
However, the Russian Navy tends to use its sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov , for fleet defence rather than as a fixed-wing carrier strike platform. As such, its carrier-based Su-33 ‘Flanker’ and MiG-29K ‘Fulcrum’ aircraft are not required to fly the same distances to attack shore-based targets as Western carrier aircraft typically are, hence do not utilise the ‘buddy-buddy’ or land-based AAR systems of the West.
Most Russian naval aviation, including the Su-30SM and Su-24s used in these training exercises, is land based and so would utilise land-based tankers for AAR. Russia recently boosted the military capabilities located in its Kaliningrad enclave with the arrival on 13 December 2016 of the first Su-30SM to be fielded by the Baltic Fleet.
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