Two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO Reporting Name: Blackjack) strategic bombers on Monday (October 28, 2013) flew from an airbase in southwestern Russia and landed in Venezuela, the Russian Defense Ministry said. The nuclear-capable bombers, which took off from the Engels air base in the Volga region, flew over the Caribbean, the eastern Pacific and along the southwestern coast of the North American continent, and landed at Maiquetia airfield in Venezuela. On Thursday the two bombers departed Venezuela and landed in Nicaragua.
This mission on Friday, November 1 to Nicaragua triggered an international incident. As the aircraft flew from Caracas Venezuela to Managua, the two bombers entered Columbian airspace without propper request. The aircraft were detected about 11:00 am by the air surveillance radar of San Andrés. According to Colombian records, the two aircraft carried registration numbers XM94115 XM94104.
The Russian bombers were intercepted by two Colombian KFIR fighters approximately 80 miles of Barranquilla. The Colombian fighters followed the Russian bombers for about five minutes, until the intruders left Colombian airspace. “Barranquilla Control reports to the Command and Control Center of the Air Force, the aircraft transferred from Curacao Control, had no diplomatic clearance for overflying respective Colombian airspace” the military announcement said. The Russian bommbers were not allowed to continue on their planned route and avoid the 12 nautical miles zone from the island. Finally, they crossed to the south of the archipelago and lost contact with them when they were on Honduran territory.
According to the Russian ministry statement, the bombers covered a distance of more than 10,000 kilometers (over 6,200 miles) during a 13-hour non-stop flight. Two NATO F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Bodo air base in Norway to monitor their flight near the Norwegian airspace. The ministry said the current mission was carried out “in line with the program of combat training.” The 3 hour ‘hop’ to Nicaragua took the bombers over a 2,500 kilometer above the neutral waters of the Caribbean Sea.
On November 5 the bombers were back in Engels, after flying directly from Venezuela’s Maiquetia airfield, a distance of about 13,000 kilometers [8,000 miles]. Over the Sea of Norway they refuelled from an Ilyushin Il-98 air tankers over neutral waters before landing at their base, the Russian Defense Ministry said. Russian strategic bombers conducted a similar mission in 2008. It was followed by a visit to Venezuela by a Russian naval task force, which took part in joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.
The Tu-160 Blackjack is a supersonic, variable-geometry heavy bomber, designed to strike strategic targets with nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation.