In ‘Rarest Of The Rare Maneuver’, an American spy plane flew over Russia’s east coast to watch for Putin’s ‘invincible’ Sarmat missile – reports

In a rare maneuver, two American surveillance planes, the RC-135S, reportedly flew to Russia’s east coast on a surveillance mission to test Russia’s new Sarmat ICBM on April 20.

The first large-scale test flight of Russia’s new RS-28 Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), one of six “super weapons” unveiled by President Vladimir Putin in March 2018, appears to have prompted the military of the American air force to deploy these jets even during the conflict in Ukraine.

The two RC-135S aircraft, serial numbers 62-4128 and 61-2663, took off yesterday from Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska and headed in formation two RC-135S aircraft were likely towards the far coast- eastern Russia, according to to reports.

The plane was shown near St. Matthew Island, a remote Alaskan outpost in the Bering Sea, in online flight tracking software.

The two Cobra Balls are said to have monitored the Sarmat’s multiple Independent Targeting Re-entry Vehicle (MIRV) test warheads as they returned to earth in a specified area of ​​the Kura Proving Ground on the Kamchatka Peninsula in the Russian Far East.

The Cobra Ball would typically park closer to the Russian coast, with an orbiting region off Klyuchi, which is also on the Kamchatka Peninsula. As a result, two RC-135S aircraft were likely “taken aback”, re-entry occurring before the aircraft arrived at their intended station.

The US military used this aircraft to regularly gather intelligence and information about contested regions. The US Air Force RC-135W Rivet Joint Electronic Reconnaissance Aircraft previously flew over Donbass/Donbass on December 11, as reported by EurAsian Times.

The RS-28 Sarmat superheavy ICBM. (Russian MoD)

Last year, the Russian military dispatched a MiG-31 fighter jet to escort a US RC-135 surveillance plane as it approached the Russian border over the Pacific Ocean. “The Russian fighter crew identified the aerial target as a US Air Force RC-135 strategic reconnaissance aircraft and escorted it over Pacific Ocean waters,” Interfax later reported, citing the Russian Pacific Fleet.

Why were the two planes used?

The initial assumption of the mission appears to be that US intelligence authorities were so eager for intelligence on this ICBM test, the first of its kind, that they sent two RC-135S aircraft to observe it.

“I’m not aware of any two-ship RC-135S missions, although that doesn’t mean there haven’t been one to verify the calibration of the systems,” Robert S. Hopkins, III, researcher independent, aviation historian and former Air Force pilot with experience flying 17 different C-135 sub-variants, including the two RC-135S Cobra Ball aircraft involved, Warzone told Warzone.

“There were missions where the RC-135S (59-1491) and RC-135E (62-4137) flew together, but these were rare (both jets were lost in 1969, January and June),” said.

Boeing RC-135 - Wikipedia
Boeing RC-135 – Wikipedia

“Until they had three Cobra Balls, we only had 662 and 663, and one was often in scheduled maintenance from the depot or in a mod, or off station for another collection (ocean target rather than Kura). A double mission could have happened, but no one ever told me about it. I can’t prove a negative, but I’ve never heard of it,” added Hopkins.

However, having two planes in the air at the same time could have additional benefits. One possibility is that the Cobra Balls collected data at different altitudes to cover the re-entry of the ICBM. It may also have been about testing new equipment on different planes.

Defense experts also believe that the two-ship Cobra Ball expedition may also have a simpler rationale. It is possible that Eielson’s main RC-135S suffered a technical problem, necessitating the launch of the basic spare. The main jet then took off and accompanied the standby jet to the same location once ready for flight.

Boeing RC-135S

The Boeing RC-135 is a medium-weight, four-engine reconnaissance aircraft designed and built by Boeing Defense and Integrated Systems for the United States Air Force (USAF).

It is also supplied to the UK Royal Air Force. It is based on the C-135 Stratolifter and is capable of performing Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions.

The RC-135S Cobra Ball is an upgraded Rivet Ball with electro-optical sensors for long-range monitoring of ballistic missile flights. The RC-135 can climb at a speed of 1,490 meters per minute. The top speed of the plane is about 933 km/h.

RC-135S Cobra Ball
Bullet Cobra RC-135S – USAF

Range and service ceiling are 5,550 km and 15,200 m (50,000 ft) respectively. The aircraft weighs approximately 78,743 kg, with a maximum takeoff weight of 133,633 kg. The Boeing RC-135’s four F108-CF-201 turbofan engines can each deliver 21,000 lbf of thrust.

The CFM56 engine, produced by CFM International, is designated F108 by the US military. In accordance with strict FAR 33-6 ingestion requirements, the engine reduces fuel consumption, noise and pollutants.

The aircraft’s onboard electro-optical sensors track geolocated signals in the electromagnetic spectrum and provide the information to operators via a secure satellite communications data link.