Jump to content

As a result of the close-down of the UK by the British Government last night, we have made all the Buy/Sell areas read-only until we open back up again, so please have a look at the announcement linked here.

This site uses cookies! Learn More

This site uses cookies!

You can find a list of those cookies here: mysite.com/cookies

By continuing to use this site, you agree to allow us to store cookies on your computer. :)

Doc72

Defensive armament on Cold-War bomber aircraft

Recommended Posts

Hi everybody,

just some random thoughts I had on my mind for some time and maybe anybody can comment on this or has some information or opinions on this subject.

It strikes me that the USA, Great Britain and the Soviet Union took very different approaches to defensive armament on their bomber (and transport) aircraft in the cold war era.

In the RAF, every bomber after the Lincoln and the Washington relied on high speed, high altitude (low flying later) and ECM for self protection. I am not sure if guns/cannons were provided for in the Short Sperrin but the Canberra and the V-Bombers had none. (The cannons on maritime patrol Shackleton were intended for strafing surface targets, I guess).

The Soviets took a completely different approach: Even the relatively small Il-28 had a gunner’s position in the tail. The Tu-16, Tu-95 and M-4 virtually continued the B-29/Tu-4 layout with gun turrets in dorsal, ventral and rear positions. A remote controlled tail turret is still installed in the supersonic Tu-22 and Tu-22M/-26 while defensive guns/cannon are missing only on the Tu-160s. As far as I can see, tail turrets are still present on Tu-22Ms and Tu-95s used by the Russian Air Force today. In contrast to all Western designs even transport aircraft like the An-12 and Il-76 were designed with a tail turret.

The US somehow chose a middle way between these two approaches: Dorsal and ventral turrets last appeared on the B-36, but the B-47, B-52 and (early) A3D/B-66 still had tail turrets as well as the supersonic B-58. I am not sure when the tail guns were removed from the B-52s. Maybe they were still carried during Desert Storm. AFAIK, over Vietnam at least one BUFF even scored a kill with its tail gun(s).

Now I wonder what are the reasons for these different approaches? One might think that Soviet planes were somehow lacking in terms of ceiling, speed and ECM, but even the US clung to guns/cannons. Does anyone know if guns were meant to shoot down air-to-air missiles? It sounds unlikely given the size and speed of the target, however, modern warships use fast firing 20-30mm cannons as a last-ditch defense against ant-ship missiles. So what was/is the rationale behind the defensive armament on cold-war (and some of Russia’s today’s) bombers?

Regards,

Ole

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

AIUI, aircraft like the Canberra and the later B-36 etc were able to fly high enough and fast enough that contemporary fighters (MiG 15/17) couldn't get into a firing position. My suspicion is that the B-47/52 were intended to do the same, but the designers reasoned that the fighter opposition would be more capable and hence added defensive weapons.

I seem to recall that the Soviet designs were slower and had poorer high-altitude performance than their Western analogues, and so were designed to be able to fight their way to the target.

The B52 managed to shoot to down at least two North Vietnamese interceptors using the tailguns, which provides at least some justification for their installation. The Russian 23mm weapons can apparently fire flare/chaff cartridges as well as air-to-air ammunition, and similar tailguns were fitted to transport planes too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a sad reflection of the state of early ECM that the only RAF Canberra lost on operations was a PR.7 shot down by an Egiption AF NF Meteor during the Suez crises. The tail warning radar on the Canberra at the time was the woefully inadequate "Orange Putter" this system was deleted fairly quickly from the Canberra fleet.

John

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for your comments so far.

I had never heard about the guns firing chaff and flare cartridges. This certainly adds to their usefulness today.

The picture of the Il-76 firing its guns is also most interesting. It is even a Russian aircraft (and not a Soviet one). I didn't expect cargo planes would still use them.

A twin 23mm-turret looks very bulky compared to Western chaff/flare dispenser, but then there is the additional benefit of firing live rounds. And of course the turret were not retrofitted but rather included in the original design.

As were are talking about cargo planes: These bomber-style glazed noses were also typically Eastern. Supposedly, it had something to do with the lack of navaids within the less-populated parts of the USSR like Siberia so that the navigator could plot ground features. It' s funny that the Il-76 looks very Soviet (gun turret, glazed nose) while the An-124 had neither (well, it actually looks like a C-5 anyway.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only the military transport variant of the Il-76 has a rear gun turret - the 'civilian' cargo planes do not.

The twin GSh-23 double-barelled 23mm cannons can be used against ground targets - but are mainly used to fire chaff and flare rounds to decoy incoming missiles.

I suspect that is what is happening in the photo linked by Jari.

The military Il-76 is used mainly for paradropping - troops and heavy equipment.

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only the military transport variant of the Il-76 has a rear gun turret - the 'civilian' cargo planes do not.

I haven't got a Il-76 reference handy but I assume it's very much like the An-12 where a simple 'Turret = Military, No-Turret = Civilian' doesn't apply very evenly.

Many military versions lack a turret, many ex-miltary airframes retain them. A good many on both sides once had one and then had it removed.

It's easier to say 'Guns = Military' and back this up with checking markings. Note however exceptions can occur and Aeroflot aircraft may not always be true civilians and may have any combination (although obviously mostly follow the no-gun or blanked off rule).

Olde style Soviet/Russian/Ukrainian transports - The moment you write a rule you'll find an exception. :)

Edited by dpm1did1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should have started my post with the word 'Originally'

Of course there are many ex-military Il-76's now in 'civilian' hands - as you say, there are no hard and fast rules.

But, generally speaking, as designed, the 'Candid-A' was pure cargo with no gun turret, 'Candid-B' was a military transport/para dropper with a gun turret.

Ken

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I should have started my post with the word 'Originally'

Of course there are many ex-military Il-76's now in 'civilian' hands - as you say, there are no hard and fast rules.

But, generally speaking, as designed, the 'Candid-A' was pure cargo with no gun turret, 'Candid-B' was a military transport/para dropper with a gun turret.

Ken

Good luck hitting ground targets while flying backwards at high speed.

The inclusion of these weapons just shows the conservative aspect of Russian aircraft design. They add virtually nothing from a self-defense standpoint, whilst increasing weight and drag.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The inclusion of these weapons just shows the conservative aspect of Russian aircraft design. They add virtually nothing from a self-defense standpoint, whilst increasing weight and drag.

Designs such as the Tu-16, M-4, An-12 and many others hardly constitute 'conservative'. That accusation could equally be points at a whole raft of US and European equivalents.

In fact Soviet era designs were often equal, and possibly at times superior, to their Western compatriots but were designed or utilised with different priorities.

Tail turrets may seem outdated now but even well in to the 60s most wartime interceptors would still have needed a rear hemisphere approach and attack due to limitations of avionics (air and ground) and weapons.

Different is not worse, simply different.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The US somehow chose a middle way between these two approaches: Dorsal and ventral turrets last appeared on the B-36, but the B-47, B-52 and (early) A3D/B-66 still had tail turrets as well as the supersonic B-58. I am not sure when the tail guns were removed from the B-52s. Maybe they were still carried during Desert Storm. AFAIK, over Vietnam at least one BUFF even scored a kill with its tail gun(s).

They were removed after the Gulf War (I anyway), there were two MiG shoot downs in Vietnam attributed to B-52s. One of these "Diamond Lil" is preserved at the USAF Academy.

Julien

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi everybody,

just some random thoughts I had on my mind for some time and maybe anybody can comment on this or has some information or opinions on this subject.

It strikes me that the USA, Great Britain and the Soviet Union took very different approaches to defensive armament on their bomber (and transport) aircraft in the cold war era.

In the RAF, every bomber after the Lincoln and the Washington relied on high speed, high altitude (low flying later) and ECM for self protection. I am not sure if guns/cannons were provided for in the Short Sperrin but the Canberra and the V-Bombers had none. (The cannons on maritime patrol Shackleton were intended for strafing surface targets, I guess).

The Soviets took a completely different approach: Even the relatively small Il-28 had a gunner’s position in the tail. The Tu-16, Tu-95 and M-4 virtually continued the B-29/Tu-4 layout with gun turrets in dorsal, ventral and rear positions. A remote controlled tail turret is still installed in the supersonic Tu-22 and Tu-22M/-26 while defensive guns/cannon are missing only on the Tu-160s. As far as I can see, tail turrets are still present on Tu-22Ms and Tu-95s used by the Russian Air Force today. In contrast to all Western designs even transport aircraft like the An-12 and Il-76 were designed with a tail turret.

The US somehow chose a middle way between these two approaches: Dorsal and ventral turrets last appeared on the B-36, but the B-47, B-52 and (early) A3D/B-66 still had tail turrets as well as the supersonic B-58. I am not sure when the tail guns were removed from the B-52s. Maybe they were still carried during Desert Storm. AFAIK, over Vietnam at least one BUFF even scored a kill with its tail gun(s).

Now I wonder what are the reasons for these different approaches? One might think that Soviet planes were somehow lacking in terms of ceiling, speed and ECM, but even the US clung to guns/cannons. Does anyone know if guns were meant to shoot down air-to-air missiles? It sounds unlikely given the size and speed of the target, however, modern warships use fast firing 20-30mm cannons as a last-ditch defense against ant-ship missiles. So what was/is the rationale behind the defensive armament on cold-war (and some of Russia’s today’s) bombers?

Regards,

Ole

I think in America's case, it was a rational appreciation of what they faced. As early as 1945 with the efforts of Curtis Lemay, operational B-29 squadrons started to dispense with defensive armaments as a weight saving measure. The B-35 and 36 were already well into development and therefore retained a more conventional defensive armament. However with the advent of the B-47 and 52 the speed of these aircraft made ventral and head on attacks difficult, both for the attacker and the gunners. There was no operational utility to keep them.

Still tail turrets had significant utility: the Soviets did not deploy a AAM until 1960ish, so guns were the primary threat. Having a tail turret was shown to be effective: there were several "hot" intercepts of RB-36s and other reconnaissance aircraft where the tail gun was used to good effect.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Il-102, an unsuccessful competitor to the Su-25, had a tail gun (and gunner, although he was stationed well forward of the gun). It was found in Afghanistan in the 1980's that the old Il-28 Beagle's tail guns were effective in keeping the Mujahadeen's heads down. When other aircraft would attack them, they would pop up from wherever they were hiding and loose off their Stingers or guns against the aircraft flying away. They soon realised that doing that with the Beagle could mean getting a salvo of 23-mm rounds in response and they learned to lie low. That's the story, anyway. In Vietnam, the heavily-modified AP-2H version of the Neptune was refitted with the manned tail turrets that the earlier Neptunes had carried. This was done not to provide defence against the non-existent Viet Cong Air Force, but to provide ground suppression, as with the Il-28's later in Afghanistan.

Regards,

Jason

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The B-58 gun was a SAC requirement. Convair never intended to fit them as the principal defence was speed and high altitude.

The limited defensive effects of firing even an M61 flying backwards at anything over M1.5 would be evident.

Edited by Brokenedge

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Il-102, an unsuccessful competitor to the Su-25, had a tail gun (and gunner, although he was stationed well forward of the gun). It was found in Afghanistan in the 1980's that the old Il-28 Beagle's tail guns were effective in keeping the Mujahadeen's heads down. When other aircraft would attack them, they would pop up from wherever they were hiding and loose off their Stingers or guns against the aircraft flying away. They soon realised that doing that with the Beagle could mean getting a salvo of 23-mm rounds in response and they learned to lie low. That's the story, anyway. In Vietnam, the heavily-modified AP-2H version of the Neptune was refitted with the manned tail turrets that the earlier Neptunes had carried. This was done not to provide defence against the non-existent Viet Cong Air Force, but to provide ground suppression, as with the Il-28's later in Afghanistan.

Regards,

Jason

On that note the SPPU-22 guns pods fitted to Soviet ground attack aircraft could be fitted to aim backwards also.

http://weaponsystems.net/image/s-lightbox/n-SPPU-22/--/img/ws/am_pod_sppu22_v1.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Designs such as the Tu-16, M-4, An-12 and many others hardly constitute 'conservative'. That accusation could equally be points at a whole raft of US and European equivalents.

In fact Soviet era designs were often equal, and possibly at times superior, to their Western compatriots but were designed or utilised with different priorities.

Tail turrets may seem outdated now but even well in to the 60s most wartime interceptors would still have needed a rear hemisphere approach and attack due to limitations of avionics (air and ground) and weapons.

Different is not worse, simply different.

Wasn't implying that their overall designs were conservative, that's hardly the case. Just that some of their designs continued to feature certain "conservative" features. IMO, the tail gun is one of those.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a sad reflection of the state of early ECM that the only RAF Canberra lost on operations was a PR.7 shot down by an Egiption AF NF Meteor during the Suez crises. The tail warning radar on the Canberra at the time was the woefully inadequate "Orange Putter" this system was deleted fairly quickly from the Canberra fleet.

John

Syrian, I thought.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On a related note, I've looked but have yet to find any decent interior pics of the rear gunners station on any cold war aircraft, B-52 or the Russian designs. If anyone has any links, please post!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Few civvie An-12's with military backgrounds?

UR-DWF seen with a ball turret and glass panels replaced/painted over.

068264.jpg

UR-CAK with ball turret too.. can clearly see where the barrels went.

066469.jpg

Ex-Kazakhstan Air Force... no idea if it had a gun turret..

170225.jpg

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It's a sad reflection of the state of early ECM that the only RAF Canberra lost on operations was a PR.7 shot down by an Egiption AF NF Meteor during the Suez crises. The tail warning radar on the Canberra at the time was the woefully inadequate "Orange Putter" this system was deleted fairly quickly from the Canberra fleet.

John

Actually: two RAF Canberras were damaged by Egyptian MiG-15s during their nocturnal sorties over Egypt in the Suez War 1956 (curiously, EAF commanders didn't believe claims of their pilots: both were reprimanded for 'lying').

The recce Canberra that was shot down was hit by Syrian Meteors - and then a few days _after_ the end of hostilities in Egypt. It came down over Lebanon, with the loss of one crewmember.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Only the military transport variant of the Il-76 has a rear gun turret - the 'civilian' cargo planes do not.

...

The military Il-76 is used mainly for paradropping - troops and heavy equipment.

'Military' or not, Il-76 is mainly used to haul cargo.

********

That said, Iraqi and Libyan Il-76s were used to drop bombs too, by night of course. These were stacked on pallets which were then rolled out of the rear cargo door (Iraqi during the war with Iran, and Libyan during the war in Chad).

...and Libyans used their Il-76TDs (without any modifications) even as a sort of AEW aircraft, at least during Attain Document II, in February 1986: they kept one 'on station' over the Med north of Tripoli 24/7...

There is a long 'tradition' of using Soviet-made transports (foremost An-24s and An-26s, but An-12s and An-32s too) as make-shift bombers - in different air forces, but especially in Sudan. An-26s and An-32s have got that 'fish-eye' glass bulge on the left side of the forward fuselage, where - originally - there was an aiming device for dropping paras. It turned out this aiming device was just as good for aiming bombs too.

Going off topic: Zims have used CASA C.212s as bombers during the war in DR Congo too, in 1998-1999 period. Pilots were using hand-held GPS to find targets, rest of the crew was rolling Alpha CBUs out of the rear cargo door...

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

To be honest, if you want my 2p worth, if you've got a formation of 20 B52s or whatever heading over the north pole on a doomsday mission with air-to-air missiles coming in like steel rain, I can't see them getting much of a chance to use their tail turrets. They did get a couple of kills in Vietnam but for me this is another case of people forgetting what strategic bombers were designed for- to hit the opposing superpower. I can't see them seeing much use there. Then again, there is the argument of 'well you never know', and there is perhaps even the argument of a placebo. You may feel safer with a tail turret on board. As for the soviets, I've always seen it as being what I call 'design ideology' (i.e. conservative adherence to dogma) that primarily made them put it on. WWII era air generals didn't want to have bombers without tail guns because they had served in a world where firepower and armour made a difference in air combat.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

'Military' or not, Il-76 is mainly used to haul cargo.

********

That said, Iraqi and Libyan Il-76s were used to drop bombs too, by night of course. These were stacked on pallets which were then rolled out of the rear cargo door (Iraqi during the war with Iran, and Libyan during the war in Chad).

...and Libyans used their Il-76TDs (without any modifications) even as a sort of AEW aircraft, at least during Attain Document II, in February 1986: they kept one 'on station' over the Med north of Tripoli 24/7...

There is a long 'tradition' of using Soviet-made transports (foremost An-24s and An-26s, but An-12s and An-32s too) as make-shift bombers - in different air forces, but especially in Sudan. An-26s and An-32s have got that 'fish-eye' glass bulge on the left side of the forward fuselage, where - originally - there was an aiming device for dropping paras. It turned out this aiming device was just as good for aiming bombs too.

Going off topic: Zims have used CASA C.212s as bombers during the war in DR Congo too, in 1998-1999 period. Pilots were using hand-held GPS to find targets, rest of the crew was rolling Alpha CBUs out of the rear cargo door...

Not just soviet aircraft, the Argentine Air Force used a C130 for dropping 1000lb free-fall bombs with makeshift wing pylons during the Falklands and hit a British STUFT tanker with it. (Atlantic Wye?) Seemed like a pretty good idea to me.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The USAF has famously rolled "daisy-cutter" bombs out of the back of Herky Birds as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

×
×
  • Create New...