MOSCOW, July 24 (RIA Novosti)
- Russian strategic bombers may soon be deployed at airbases in Cuba, Venezuela and Algeria as a response to the U.S. missile shield in Europe and NATO's expansion, Russian daily Izvestia
said on Thursday.
Moscow has strongly opposed the possible deployment by the U.S. of 10 interceptor missiles in Poland and an accompanying tracking radar in the Czech Republic as a threat to its national security. Washington says the defenses are needed to deter a possible strike from Iran, or other "rogue" states.
Moscow has also expressed concern over NATO's expansion to Russia's borders and pledged to take "appropriate measures" to counter the U.S. and NATO moves.
Izvestia cited sources in the Russian Defense Ministry as saying that crews of Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear strategic bombers recently visited Cuba and conducted an inspection of a site and facilities for a possible forward landing airfield that could be used as a refueling stopover for Russian strategic bombers.
Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic, and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by former president Vladimir Putin.
At present the Russian military is considering the possibility of establishing so-called "jump-up" bases in various regions of the world to provide refueling and maintenance support for the patrolling bombers.
"The flight to the U.S. [from southern Russia where the bombers are based] takes about 10 hours and even with two mid-air refuellings the aircraft can spend only 1.5 hours near the U.S. coast," said Gen. of the Army Pyotr Deinekin, former commander of the Russian Air Force.
The use of forward landing airfields in Latin America would practically erase the time constraints for the Russian bombers and make their presence near the U.S. borders almost permanent, the general said.
If a political decision is made, Cuba will most likely host Russian Il-78 aerial tankers, which will provide nuclear-capable strategic bombers with mid-air refueling, sources in the Defense Ministry told Izvestia.
Both Tu-160 and Tu-95MS bombers have been recently modernized and fitted with new X-555 cruise missiles with a range of over 3,500 km (2,200 miles). Therefore, the bombers do not have to be permanently based near the U.S. borders to hit any target on U.S. territory in case of a potential conflict. (Image Gallery)
In the meantime, the bombers may be primarily used to spy on the United States using electronic means, much like the former Russian SIGINT station at Lourdes near Havana, which was closed in 2002.
However, another Russian publication, Nezavisimaya Gazeta, said on Thursday that the ambitious plans of Russian politicians and some military commanders may be nothing more than "saber-rattling in empty air."
The prospect of maintaining refueling posts for Russian bombers all over the world would require an enormous amount of investment in construction of infrastructure, fuel supplies and re-supplies.
The Russian defense budget simply does not have sufficient resources to ensure the implementation of these plans, the newspaper said.
Russian bombers with nuclear missiles on board policing the globe would only harm Russia's image in the international arena, and it is unlikely that their presence near the U.S. borders will scare the Americans.
The U.S. military consider long-range bombers an obsolete and highly vulnerable component of the nuclear triad. The Pentagon stopped strategic bomber patrols almost two decades ago.