by Harold Skaarup
Just exactly what aviation threat were we facing in North America during the Cold War, and why did we need fighter aircraft to protect us from the Bear that could approach from the North? Until the fall of the Berlin Wall, we still had to prepare for the worst case scenario, even if we hoped for the best. The events of 11 September 2001 were still a long way off in the future, and therefore NORAD personnel constantly had to train and be prepared for the possibility of an attack from the former Soviet Union.
A number of scenarios were discussed and war-gamed, with a view to the activities that would take place following an initial series of nuclear strikes by the former Soviet Union on North America. In the days of the Canadian McDonnell CF-101 Voodoo and our American counterparts equipped with the century series of aircraft, we had to be prepared to face the Russians bomber force that was expected to follow up the initial missile attacks. The Soviet Air Force would likely have attacked in waves, with the first air wave consisting of Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire C attacks on the Alaska NORAD Region (ANR) radar and fighters. The Tu-22Ms would have been escorted by MiG-31 Foxhound and MiG-25 Foxbat fighters who would attempt to intercept the NORAD controlled defence network, and all would have been accompanied by Ilyushin Il-78 Midas tankers to refuel them for the (very unlikely) return trip. The first key targets would have likely been the E-3 Sentry AWACs aircraft and their bases, with the intent to blind NORAD controlled fighters.
The “waves” were expected to have been continuous, with the second wave of Russian aircraft likely consisting of Tu-95 Bear H bombers carrying AS-15 missiles which would have been fired on radar sites to the Northeast of Banks Island and Alaska. Other Russian assets could also have targeted the Polar West Long-Range Detection Team (LRDT) likely deployed to the centre North. There would likely have been diversionary attacks by Russian Backfires operating out of Tiksi and Vorkuta. The diversionary aircraft would have flown out to their extreme range, launched their missiles at radar sites in ANR and returned.
The third wave would likely have consisted of long-range fighters and Midas tankers escorting Tu-160 Blackjack bombers. The fighters would plough the way for the Blackjacks, punch through the holes created in NORAD’s defences by the first two waves and “clean-up” the remaining target sites, such as CFB Winnipeg, CFB Cold Lake and CFB Bagotville. The Blackjacks could have fired AS-15 Mod-2 missiles from somewhere over the mid-Rocky Mountain range South, reaching deep into the North American interior with these missiles.
It was unlikely that there would have been a round four. The fact that Canadian Voodoo fighter pilots and their Hornet successors never had to take part downing incoming “bandits” says a lot about how lucky we all are that this scenario never came to pass. May it continue to be so.
About the Author
Former Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel for 3 Intelligence Company (Halifax), Harold A. Skaarup, CD2, BFA, MA in War Studies, retired from the Canadian Forces as an Army Intelligence Officer and has a great deal of interest in Military History. During his service career he was deployed overseas with Head Quarters Canadian Forces Europe (HQ CFE) and later with 4 Canadian Mechanized Brigade Group (4 CMBG) based in Lahr, Germany, and with the Canadian Airborne Regiment including a deployment with the Canadian Contingent of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Nicosia, Cyprus (CANCONCYP). He served with the NATO-led Peace Stabilization Force in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina (SFOR), and with North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD), as well as United States Space Command (USSPACECOM) and later United Sates Northern Command (USNORTHCOM), based on Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado Springs, Colorado. In 2004 he deployed with the Canadian Contingent of the Kabul Multi-National Brigade (KMNB) as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), in Kabul, Afghanistan. He retired from the Army in the rank of Major on 8 August 2011.
Harold now spends his time a volunteer with the New Brunswick Military History Museum and a writer of military history.
Many thanks Harold for your article and service!