Some of Russia's Su-30M2 Flanker fighter jets and Su-34 Fullback fighter-bomber aircraft performed a series of touch-and-gos on a highway, with this reportedly being the first time those two types of aircraft have ever done so. Su-27 Flankers and Ka-27 Helix helicopters also took part in the exercise Rostov region, which included mock air-to-air and air-to-ground missions, as well as simulated combat search and rescue operations.
According to a statement from Russia's Ministry of Defense, "complex weather conditions" prevented pilots from actually landing and then taking off again, but there were no specific details about the conditions. TV Zvezda, the Russian military's official outlet, said it is rare for the country's combat aircraft to practice on roadways during the winter in general. The last such major instance of this type of training occurred during the massive Zapad 2017 drills with Belarus, when Russian Su-27 Flanker and MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, as well as Su-25 Frogfoot ground attack aircraft, performed similar maneuvers on a stretch of road near the Belorussian capital Minsk.
It's not clear what Russian forces might have done to otherwise prepare the highway for the drills. Military police and local authorities did make sure to close off the area to civilian traffic and personnel erected a number of temporary airfield type markers to help guide the aircraft.
One official photograph showed two trucks with large searchlights positioned at one end of the impromptu airstrip, even though the operations took place during the day. Despite these various measures, the Ministry of Defense statement suggests that the exercise planners couldn't be sure the roadway was safe enough for the jets to try a complete landing run and then take off again or that the pilots were capable of performing the task.
While a highway might seem like a perfectly logical improvised runway, it can present serious challenges, especially in bad weather, such as snow and ice. Foreign object debris kicked up from the road surface could be a particularly significant concern to pilots in high-performance jet combat aircraft.
Neither the Russian Ministry of Defense nor TV Zvezda gave an official reason for why the units performed the particular maneuvers during the exercise, either. Many countries conduct similar drills, generally with the purpose of preparing pilots to operate from austere or unusual conditions either in foreign countries where established facilities might be limited or in a crisis where friendly bases might be especially vulnerable to attack or otherwise unusable.
The Kremlin may feel that being able to operate its combat aircraft from dispersed locations is an increasingly important capability amid simmering tensions with the United States and NATO. Since seizing Ukraine's Crimea region in 2014, Russia has found itself more and more at odds with the Western alliance.
Moscow's active support for separatists in Ukraine's eastern Donbass region has led to international censure and economic sanctions from many countries, especially elsewhere in Europe. Rostov province, where this particular touch-and-go exercise occurred, borders eastern Ukraine.
its military capabilities, and generally taking a more aggressive stance internationally. In turn, there have been numerous tit-for-tat military drills and other incidents between Russian and NATO forces, since 2014, especially in and around the strategic Baltic Sea and Black Sea regions.
If nothing else, its the latest indication of the Russian military's attempts to improve its overall readiness and expand its operational capabilities. Just in 2017, the Kremlin conducted a number of major snap drills, including a large strategic exercise involving the launch of multiple nuclear-capable ballistic and cruise missiles.
As such, this may be the first time Su-30SMs and Su-34s have tried their hand at even briefly touching down on a highway, but its unlikely to be the last exercise of its kind for Russian pilots.
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