UTI MiG-15 Les pilotes du premier escadron du 294.ORAP prennent la pose sur un UTI MiG-15 à Altenburg en 1960. © G.Kovrov.

Pilots of the 1st squadron from the 294.ORAP posing on a UTI MiG-15 at Altenburg in 1960. © G.Kovrov.
MiG-15bisR Un MiG-15bisR du 294.ORAP au roulage à Altenburg. © G.Kovrov.

A 294.ORAP MiG-15bisR taxiing at Altenburg. © G.Kovrov.
Contrary to the Atlantic Alliance policy of gradual reduction of tactical reconnaissance air assets beginning in the early eighties - in favor of other intelligence platforms like satellites - the Soviet air forces in Germany continued to maintain and develop a large and varied panoply of tactical reconnaissance aircraft throughout that decade. The 16th VA held powerful tactical reconnaissance assets facing NATO. On the eve of German reunification, the Air Army was equipped with about hundred Su-17 "Fitter", Yak-28 "Brewer", Su-24 "Fencer" and MiG-25 "Foxbat" expressly vested in this task. These aircraft composed six (1) reconnaissance aviation squadrons (or Razvedyvatel'naya Aviatsionnaya Eskadril'ya - RAE) organized into three separate reconnaissance aviation regiments (or Otdel'nyy Razvedyvatel'nyy Aviatsionnyy Polk - ORAP). In addition to these tactical reconnaissance assets, there was a separate (electronic) reconnaissance aviation section (or Otdel'nyy Razvedyvatel'nyy Aviatsionnyy Otriad - ORAO) flying Il-20 "Coot" at Sperenberg, near the GSFG headquarters.

Fagot and Fishbed

MiG-15bisR During the fifties, the Soviets undertook to equip their aviation forces with specialized reconnaissance aircraft. One of these new aircraft was the MiG-15bisR based on the airframe of the MiG-15bis "Fagot-B" fighter (the first MiG-15 fighter were equipped with an AFA-1M camera with limited capability and the latter was finally withdrawn in 1950 in favor of other equipment). The fighter version was armed with a 37mm N-37 cannon mounted on the right side of the nose and with two 23mm NR-23 guns on the left side. The inner NR-23 gun was not mounted on the reconnaissance variant to give way to an AFA-BA-40 camera with a 400mm focal length. Although the MiG-15bisR had limited capabilities, the serial production had started back in 1951 at plant n°21 in Gorky, almost simultaneously with that of the MiG-15bis fighter variant. The MiG-15bisR usually flew with two 600-liter fuel tanks under their wings in order to increase their range.

MiG-15bisR Le compartiment canon/photo d'un MiG-15bisR. Outre la présence d'une caméra AFA-BA-40 au centre, nous pouvons constater qu'il n'y avait plus qu'un seul canon NR-23 à gauche. © DR.

The gun and camera bay of a MiG-15bisR. The AFA-BA-40 camera is conspicuous. One can see that only one NR-23 cannon was mounted on the left side. © DR.
The 294.ORAP began its operational career in the GDR with that aircraft type. This separate reconnaissance aviation regiment was activated in March 1951 at Strausberg; however, it already had left that airbase in 1953 for Welzow where it stayed only one year. In 1954, the aircraft moved again, this time to Altenburg. The association of the regiment with this airfield in Thuringia lasted until July 1967, when the unit moved to further forward to Allstedt near the inner-German border, where it remained until its retirement from Germany in May 1991. By the late sixties, the MiG-15bisR gave way to the MiG-21R, a more capable and efficient aircraft able to carry a larger and more elaborate reconnaissance suite.

Un MiG-21R du 294.ORAP équipé d'une nacelle de reconnaissance photo ventrale de type D ainsi que de deux réservoirs supplémentaires en points externes, en approche à Allstedt. © MLM.

A MiG-21R of the 294.ORAP equipped with two auxiliary fuel tanks under the outboard wing pylons and a type D ventral photo reconnaissance pod, on landing approach to Allstedt runway. © MLM.
The MiG-21R "Fishbed-H" (2) that took over from the obsolete "Fagot" flew their reconnaissance missions with specialized five-meter-long pods attached under the belly. In order to compensate for the loss of the ventral attachment point, the only one where an additional fuel tank could be hung (the MiG-21R was a development of the MiG-21PFS), two new "wet" attachment points for 490-liters PTB-490 external fuel tanks were added outboard of the two already existing wing pylons. The MiG-21R wings also were characterized by the presence of two small fairings constituting the wing tips. They housed the antennas of the SPO-3 "Sirena" radar homing and warning receiver, the electronics of which housed inside the reconnaissance pods.

Three main reconnaissance pod variants coexisted in the "Fishbed-H" units:

D SPO-3 Détail du carénage d'antennes du système SPO-3 sur un MiG-21R polonais. Cet avion était apparemment armé avec des missiles RS-2US accrochés sous les pylônes internes. © DR.

Close up on the antenna fairing of the SPO-3 system on a Polish AF MiG-21R. This aircraft was apparently armed with RS-2US missiles under the inboard pylons. © DR.
- "D" variant (Dnevnaya fotorazvedka - day photo reconnaissance). This pod had a marked drop under the nose to allow frontal photography. It carried seven cameras, including six AFA/A-39 models. A pair of these was located behind the nose drop to cover the area below the aircraft flight path. The remaining four A-39s were located to the rear of the pod, also arranged in pairs, one covering the left sector and the other the right sector. The seventh camera was an AShchAFA-5M (3) model used to cover strips of land (see the two slot holes on the photo above). It was positioned just behind the two A-39 cameras pointing forward. The SPO-3 complex was located inside the pod tail together with a Lira tape recorder and an ASO-2I flare launcher system composed of two KDS-19 cassettes able to fire 32 thermic or electromagnetic (chaff) decoys.

N- "N" variant (Nochnaya fotorazvedka - night photo reconnaissance). This dedicated night reconnaissance version carried an AFA-UA-47 camera. Night photography was made possible thanks to four KDF-38 cassettes containing a total of 152 FP-100 illumination flares that occupied nearly a third of the pod. An ASO-2I flare launcher system was located under the rear tip. The "N" pod also included a Lira tape recorder and an SPO-3 complex.

R- "R" variant (Radiotekhnicheskaya razvedka - electronic reconnaissance). This pod could be easily recognized thanks to the large dielectric panels of the SRS-4 Romb-4A and Romb-4B (Rhombus) ELINT systems adorning its sides. The electromagnetic signals received by this detection, classification and localisation suite were recorded on magnetic tape (Lira). An A-39 camera was kept at the front, while an ASO-2I flare launcher system and an SPO-3 complex occupied the rear tip.

MiG-21R Des pilotes du 294.ORAP discutent le coup devant un MiG-21R camouflé porteur d'une nacelle de reconnaissance. © DR.

294.ORAP pilots discussing tactics in front of a camouflaged MiG-21R equipped with a reconnaissance pod. © DR.
Other pod versions or equipped differently internally were tested. However, we do not know if these variants were used during routine operations. The "T" model (Televizionnyy Aviatsionnyy Razvedyvatel'nyy Kompleks - aerial television reconnaissance complex) transmitted images in real time to a ground station. Another pod would have carried a Shpil' (Spire) day and night laser reconnaissance system with a data link connection. A third pod was equipped with a Prostor (Space) thermal imaging system, while a fourth would have used cameras of Western origin from Egypt; local pilots flying very low level photo missions at about 10 meters altitude employed it.

D controlm box In addition, the MiG-21R was likely to carry a RR8311-100 pod used for measuring the levels of radioactivity in the air. The pilot had at his disposal a control box mounted under the windshield arch that allowed him to operate the various reconnaissance systems, the flare launchers, or the radar warning and homing receiver. There were at least three control box variants adapted to the D, N and R reconnaissance pods. Thus, many aircraft always carried the same type of pod in accordance with the control box variant mounted on the aircraft. The MiG-21R retained self-defense or ground-attack capabilities thanks to the presence of the two inboard wing pylons that could carry air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons. On the other hand, they were likely to be used in pure fighter or ground attack configuration; the wingtip antennas were removed in such circumstances.

Su-17s for reconnaissance

294 ORAP The Su-17M3R "Fitter H" replaced the MiG-21R in 1980. We do not know for sure how many "Fishbed" squadrons comprised the 294.ORAP. However, the fact remains that the regiment had only two Su-17 squadrons totalling precisely twenty-four Su-17M3R and six Su-17UM3 "Fitter-G" Sparka twin-seat aircraft for training and operational conversion.

Su-17M3R Su-17M3R Le commandant Tsimbalinets (à droite) à la tête du 294.ORAP en 1980, discute avec le pilote Gordienko devant le Su-17M3R n°42. © Collection A.Gordienko.

294.ORAP commander Tsimbalinets (at right) in 1980, with pilot Gordienko in front of Su-17M3R bort number 42. © A.Gordienko Collection.
Even though the more-advanced Su-17M4 variant gradually began to replace the Su-17M3 in the 16.VA ground-attack regiments during the late eighties, the 294.ORAP would retain its old "Fitter-H" aircraft until its withdrawal from Germany. And yet, it was not because of a lack of the required systems (the M3 and M4 versions of the Su-17 already were equipped to carry KKR reconnaissance pods). Other Soviet tactical reconnaissance units stationed in Central Europe, an example being the 328.OGRAP at Kunmadaras in Hungary reporting to the 59.VA and subordinate to the Southern Group of Forces, received this new variant. The range of the Su-17M3R permitted it to carry out day and night missions up to 400 km behind enemy lines. This aircraft type also used various reconnaissance pods specially designed for the Su-17/-20/-22 family attached under a ventral pylon for this purpose. Designated "Integrated Reconnaissance Complex" (KKR - Konteyner Kompleksnoy Razvedki), these rather imposing pods had a nose drop to allow forward oblique photography. Although they existed in several versions, these platforms offered greater flexibility than those employed on the MiG-21R, because each one contained a range of equipment that made them more versatile. The following variants were developed:

KKR-1T- The KKR-1T model was equipped with, in order, an A-39 camera (positioned vertically or at an angle up to 55° before the flight), a PA-1 panoramic camera, a UA-47 camera for night photography, four KDF-38 cassettes containing FP-100 illumination flares (sometimes absent on some pictures illustrating this article and its photo gallery) and a SRS-13 Tangazh ELINT system, the dielectric panels of which were visible on the pod rear sides (early models mainly for export were equipped with the Virazh system). The SRS-13 suite was intended for the radar localisation, their classification and identification of their operating frequencies (more information on this pod > here).
The KKR-1T/2 model additionally carried a Shpil' system that swept the ground with a laser beam. With a higher resolution than the TV and IR reconnaissance systems, it also allowed the detection of objects at night - Shpil' also worked during daylight.

KKR-1/2- The KKR1/2 model carried in its rear module a Chibis (Lapwing) TV reconnaissance system and a Zima (Winter) thermal imaging system. TV and IR images were relayed to a ground station through a Trassa data link-type transmission suite, the antennas of which could be distinguished under the rear pod tip. The front module was equipped like the KKR-1T pod, namely three cameras (A-39, PA-1 and UA-47).
In addition to Chibis, Zima and Trassa, the KKR-1M model contained an A-39 camera and especially a long focal-length AFA-42/100 camera with a 1000mm lens. The latter, also used by the Long-range Aviation, was specifically utilized for long-distance high-altitude oblique photography.

Pershing "Le 15 août [1973], une zone d'exercice temporaire fut déployée et installée près de la ville de Soellichau. Deux maquettes gonflables de missiles PERSHING, deux maquettes de batteries de missiles HAWK et une station radio de type R-821 y furent observés. Quatre MANGROVE [Yak-27R] de Werneuchen ainsi que trois FISHBED H [MiG-21R] d'Allstedt furent observés au-dessus de la zone au cours probablement d'un exercice ou d'une compétition pour appareils de reconnaissane." © USMLM.

"On 15 August [1973], a probable mobile range was deployed and set up near the town of Soellichau. Observed at the range were two inflatable PERSHING missile mock-ups, two HAWK missile battery mock-ups, and an R-821 ground to air radio. Four Werneuchen-based MANGROVE [Yak-27R] and three Allstedt FISHBED H [MiG-21R] were observed conducting reconnaissance flights over the range area during a probable exercise/competition for reconnaissance aircraft." © USMLM.
Hawk The pilot controlled the reconnaissance suite through two control panels located in the cockpit. The Su-17M3R often carried a SPS-141 Gvozdika ECM pod under the left inner pylon. An 8th Guards Combined-Arms Army training area located NW of Naumburg was regularly used during routine training missions when ground personnel and probably a mobile data link receiving station were deployed (Google Earth file showing the usual routes followed by the 294.ORAP aircraft to download > here - created by M.Bischoff). The 294.ORAP did not survive very long after the German reunification. It was actually the first aviation regiment within the 16.VA to vacate the territory of the former GDR in early 1991.

It was a two-stages withdrawal, with one of the squadrons repatriated to Soviet Union already by the end of 1990, whereas the second departed Allstedt on May 21, 1991 (only to make an route stop at Gross Dölln) shortly before the base closure. One squadron was transferred to the 313.ORAP at Vaziani in Georgia and a second went to the 98.OGRAP "Svirskiy" at Monchegorsk in the Murmansk district in Russia, while the 294.ORAP was disbanded in June of the same year. It must be noted that, unlike other 16.VA unit departures observed at the same time, the 294.ORAP withdrawal did not take place under the negotiated general withdrawal of Soviet forces from Germany, but rather under the CFE (Conventional Forces in Europe) agreements on force reduction in Europe (4).


 MiG-21R / Su-17M3R PHOTO PAGE 
Allstedt ground exercises - 1986
notes

(1)
- Two Su-17M3R squadrons (294.ORAP)
- Two Su-24MR squadrons (11.ORAP)
- One Yak-28R squadron (931.OGRAP - from mid-86 on)
- One MiG-25RB. squadron (931.OGRAP)
(2) The first aircraft would have joined the unit in 1967 when the regiment was still based at Altenburg. The MiG-15bisR would have continued to fly for some time at Allstedt. A USMLM report from 1970 suggests that some MiG-17 - were they misindentified as MiG-15bisR or MiG-17R? - and UTI MiG-15 were based at Allstedt together with the MiG-21R.
Other reports mentioned the following evolution:
1964 : 28 MiG-15bisR
1967 : 50 MiG-15bisR, 6 UTI MiG-15, 4 Yak-12, 7 MiG-21U
(3) This type of camera was initially developed in the USSR in 1936. It was used to photograph the ground passing under the plane continuously through a rectangular opening (general layout > here). The contact sheet obtained looked like a continuous mosaic picture. The camera body in principle comprised two different lenses that made it possible to obtain the same image in two different scales at the same time. The AShchAFA-5M model was designed for low-level photography at speeds up to 1500 km/h. The photographs had a scale of 1:1000 and 1:6000. There were two versions of that camera: the first, the principle of operation of which is described above, consisted of two lenses (200 and 70mm). The second variant consisted of three modules, namely one composed of two cameras as variant 1, a second used for stereoscopic photography and a third designed for bilateral axonometric photography.
(4) The CFE agreements were signed by 22 countries from NATO and the Warsaw Pact at Paris on November 19, 1990, during the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE - today OSCE for Organization on Security and Cooperation in Europe).


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