A pair of Soviet-era armoured air defence systems and at least one US Air Force F-16 with a colour scheme designed to look like the ones used by the Russian air force have been spotted during a recent US Air Force drill in Alaska.
The Soviet mobile air defence units involved included a 9K35 Strela-10 (NATO reporting name SA-13 Gopher) surface-to-air-missile (SAM) system, along with a 9K33 Osa (SA-8 Gecko) SAM, with the systems designed “to replicate various threats” to US aircraft and meant to ensure “a realistic training experience,” according to Defence Blog.
Now see @EielsonAirForce Eielson Yukon Training Area's SA-13 "Gopher" SAM used in RED FLAG-Alaska. Story by @usairforce, photos by airman Isaac Johnson: https://t.co/23YL9cZshe #AirDominance pic.twitter.com/3qRVp4PrZc— James Drew (@StrikeWriter) 13 августа 2019 г.
Check out @EielsonAirForce Yukon Training Area's Soviet-developed SA-8 "Gecko" surface-to-air missile system that took part in the recent @usairforce RED FLAG-Alaska exercise https://t.co/j2wsalDXHK #AirDominance pic.twitter.com/zKPKddtpQJ— James Drew (@StrikeWriter) 13 августа 2019 г.
The armoured units were spotted during the ‘Red Flag-Alaska’ drills at the Yukon Training Area outside Eielson Air Force Base, located about 1,000 km east of the US-Russian border. The annual drills, their name obviously inspired by the old Cold War against the Soviet Union, involve multiple units from US Pacific Air Force commands, and are formally tasked with helping the US and its allies ‘improve interoperability’ through ‘realistic training scenarios’.
The ‘Gopher’ and ‘Gecko’ were also accompanied by at least one F-16 painted up to look like a Russian jet, featuring a distinctive blue-grey-light blue colour scheme. Eielson’s official Twitter account showed off pictures of the jet, accompanied by an ordinary US Air Force F-16, during aerial refueling.
The world’s highest gas station. We’ve enjoyed having our joint force and international partners here for Red Flag-Alaska 19-3. Aerial refueling is but one component we train on but it’s critically important to ensuring the readiness of our forces to deploy at a moment’s notice. pic.twitter.com/zE9tQUAnMV— Eielson Air Force Base (@EielsonAirForce) 14 августа 2019 г.
Along with the US, the UK’s Royal Air Force, the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Canadian Air Force are participating, with operations split between Eilson and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The bases are part of Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex, a vast network of US military installations scattered across the state and used for training.
Here's a timelapse of the action on the flight line as we complete week 1 of RED FLAG-Alaska. It was a busy day indeed! pic.twitter.com/vOZLu2qBku— Eielson Air Force Base (@EielsonAirForce) 10 августа 2019 г.
It’s not clear when or where the US military got its hands on the Soviet-era air defence systems, which remain on duty in Russia’s air defence network in upgraded form. However, the US has been known to purchase, either clandestinely or in the open, multiple advanced Soviet-made air defence systems from the former Eastern Bloc nations starting in the early 1990s. Russia is thought to have at least 480 Strela-10s and 420 Osas of various modifications in its arsenal.