Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Stealth from the Southern Hemisphere

Tu-16 Badger

Until the 60’s only three countries had long range bombers : the Americans with their B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress, and B-58 Hustler, the British with their V-bombers Vulcan, Victor and Valiant, the Russian with the Tu-16 primarily, omitting the operators of propeller-driven bombers. AURI felt a desperate need for a long range strike capability because of the vastness of the Indonesia archipelago, the rebellion in the other islands and the American embargo on spare parts that stringled its B-25 and P-51 striking force.

“The US secretly sided with the rebels. Officially there was no embargo, but in fact out of long list of spare parts worth hundred of thousands of dollars only a single magneto for P-51 worth US$ 125,- got an export license,” complained the Air Force Chief Air Marshall Suryadarma to Lt Col (now retired Air Vice Marshall) Salatun, secretary of the Joint Chiefs-of-Staff.

Because the air operations against the rebels become so intense the stock of spare parts dwindled alarmingly. Lt Col Salatun was appointed a member of our armed forces delegations which was sent to China in secrecy looking for spares. Salatun was disappointed because the whole P-51 fleet has long been scrapped, while there was only a single B-25 left, a Taiwanese bomber shot down and displayed in a museum. The delegation even met with chairman Mao Ze Dong and premier Chou-En-Lai, and instead of returning empty handed Salatun got 12 Type 56 jet fighters (license-built MiG 17), 12 Tu-2 bombers and 24 La-11 fighters (known as the Russian Thunderbolt).

“The first Type 56 fighters suffered from tail flutter, but it was duely been remedied” explained Premier Chou-en-Lai. The Type 56 fighter was excellent like the original Mig-17 and saw fine service during the Trikora and Dwikora campaigns later on. They were easily identified by the red colored numerals on the nose and the Chinese characters on their instruments. They had only one drawback : they offer no comfort during low level flying because they have no air conditioning.

The brightest side of Chinese acquisition was free of charge. The honeymoon however was soon over when President Sukarno issued a decree prohibiting foreign business and the deal was later fully charged. The influx of Chinese material eased the situation a little bit but did not alter the general situation.

It was during the precarious situation when Lt Col Salatun asked attention of Air Marshall Suryadarma to the potentials of Tu-16. “With the Tu-16 our aircrew can take-off after breakfast, reach and bomb targets anywhere in our territory and return before lunch time, a long range jet bomber is needed because there is only one airfield suitable for jet operations- Kemayoran”, explained Salatun to Suryadarma, who agreed and brought the request forward to President Sukarno.

He immediately summoned the Russian Ambassador Zhukov who later conveyed the request to the Kremlin, without visible result. Asked about the delay in answer, Zhukov told President Sukarno that the aircraft in question was still in development stage.
Salatun was ordered by Suryadarma to closely watch the development of the request for Tu-16 and was even given the authority to contact and remind President Sukarno personally if his behalf in order to prevent the process from bogging down. President Sukarno kept pressing and later discussed the matter with Premier Kruschev personally.

When in 1960 a high-level delegation under General A.H. Nasution was sent to the Kremlin to finalize an armament deal with Trikora campaign it was disclosed that under the various weapon system the Tu-16 bomber and MiG-21 fighter were included. “Because we offer Tu-16 to Indonesia, we are obliged to make the same type of aircraft available to other friendly nation” said Foreign Minister Mikoyan Wryly.

Thus AURI, the Indonesian Air Force, become the fourth air force in the world to operate long range strategic jet bombers beside being the first in southern hemisphere to have Mach 2 jet fighter.

“AURI is the most dreaded Air Force in South East Asia,” wrote the Dutch Aviation Magazine Vliegwereld. “Material-wise the RAAF is completely outclassed by AURI, the Indonesian Air Force,” wrote the British aviation magazine Air Pictorial.

When a year later the first Tu-16 landed at Kemayoran airfield piloted by Air Commodore (now retired Air Vice Marshall) Cok Suroso Hurip, it ws the first time that said bomber made its appearance before the West as such close range. It was said that American intelligence immediately reviewed their estimates of the tankage and hence of the ranges.

AURI then sent cadets to Chekoslovakia and Russia. They were Cakra I, II and III, Ciptoning I and Ciptoning II. From the 1961 all of the 24 Tu-16s started to arrive and were flown by both Indonesian and Russian pilots.

The Kennel Shooting

To support Trikora, AURI prepared one flight of Tu-16 in Morotai, 1,5 hours flight from Madiun. One of Tu-16 pilots, Col Sidjijantono said, “once a while we fly Tu-16 just to warm up the engines. But we never bombed or came into contact with Dutch aircraft,” he told Angkasa. At the time the pilots of Tu-16”s had a specific favorite target, namely the Dutch aircraft carrier Karel Doorman.

In addition to having 12 Tu-16 bombers version Badger A, under Skadron 41, AURI also had 12 Tu-16 KS-1 Badger B, under the Skadron 42 Wing 003 Lanud Iswahyudi. This type of Badger was capable to carry a pair of anti ship missile KS-1 (AS-Kennel), which worried the opponent. Six attacks of Kennels could easily send Karel Doorman to the bottom of the sea. It was unfortunate tat until West Irian was resolved through the United Nations, mediated by Kennedy’s government, the Tu-16 was never able to show its teeth.
Idrus Abbas, at time was Air Sergeant 1st class, radio operator as well as tail gunner for TU-16 said that the talk between the Indonesia Republic and the Dutch Government in UN, was one of the most scary moment and they were monitoring the talk using a transistor radio. “If the talk turns to be failure, do not hesitate to bomb Biak.” Abas continued. “We would not be sure whether we would be able to return home or not after the bombing.” Sjahroemsjah added, at the time he was an Sergeant 1st class, it was the called a “one way ticket operation”.

Tu-16 crews in Morotai could not forget how cooperative their ground crew were. “The most trouble-some was when the Tu-16 had to refuel, because it needed up to 70 drums. The jet would take up to 45,000 litres of fuel and it had to be handled manually, which would take up to four days/four nights. A test took place between 1964-1965 in Arakan island, between Bali and Ujung Pandang. An ex reporter from TVRI, Hendro Subroto, recalled that he followed the test from a C-130 Hercules with Air Force Chief Air Marshall Omar Dhani. After the launching of Kennels, the Hercules landed in Denpasar, then using Mi-6 helicopter, the Air Force Chief together with the team flew to Arakan to see the result. “Exactly the middle of the steel platform had a hole,” said Hendro.

Chased by Javelin

To be exact, during the Dwikora campaign the Tu-16 crew discovered how sturdy the TU-16 was especially when British Javelin interceptors chased him.
“They knew that we would be shooting,” said retired Air Vice Marshal Syah Alam Damanik, one of the pilots Tu-16 over Malaka Strait. Damanik recalled when Javelin chased him and his co-pilot in 1964 with Gani and Ketut, as navigators during Dwikora campaign. Gani suggested that the aircraft should head toward Kuala Lumpur, but suddenly from a base at Butterworth, the coastal of Penang, two British jet appeared and followed Damanik. Those Javelins were trying to force the Tu-16 to land either in Singapore or Butterworth. During the tense moments, Damanik ordered “the moment you see a fire being shot at us, you shoot back.”

In the meantime Damanik ws thinking fast as those Javelins were still chasing him, while their speed was higher and so Damanik showed what he could do. He increased the height all of sudden which surprised the Javelin pilots. He then hid himself behind the thick clouds to head for Medan. In the meantime Damanik was thinking fast as those Javelins were still chasing him, while their speed was higher and so Damanik showed what he could do. He increased the height all of sudden which surprised the Javelins pilots. He then hid himself behind the thick clouds to head for Medan. The tail gunner and other crew members were screaming because they were undergoing high G's when the jet shot up. But it was much better than being forced to land by the British, said Damanik.

Sudjijantono had a different story. "I was ordered to fly a Tu-16 to Medan through Malaka Strait, while in Medan there were always two Tu-16's during the Dwikora campaign. One flew southwards from Madiun over Christmas island (British territory), Cocos island, Andaman island, Nikobar, then Medan," he said. The other one used a different route, through the north through Makasar strait, Mindanao, West Kalimantan, North Kalimantan, South China Sea, Malaka strait, then Medan, sometimes surprisingly through Tanah Genting Kra.

"Although it seemed crazy, this mission was according to the instructions. President Sukarno ordered not to shoot aimlessly. Sometimes, during the monitoring period, the Javelins caught us. But the British only acted as a 'police' to warn Tu-16s not to cross over the border.

The Stealth Mission

Still within the Dwikora period, around the middle of 1963, AURI sent three Tu-16 Badger A bombers to distribute some messages in the enemy's side. One went to Serawak, the other to Sandakan and Kinibalu, Kalimantan, both in Malaysia's territory. The third had to fly to Australia. This one whose pilot was Suwondo brought equipment such as parachutes, communication set and canned food. The idea was that they drop these items near Alice Springs, Australia (exactly at the heart of the continent), to prove that AURI was able to reach the heart of the continent. "Although Alice Springs had an over the horizon radar system to monitor the whole Asia-Pacific region," said Air Vice Marshal Zainal Sudarmadji, a Tu-16 pilot from Ciptoning II. The mission called for the aircraft to take-off from Madiun at around midnight. The pilot Air Commodore Suwondo did not say much. He only ordered us to be at Wing 003 HQ at 11 p.m. bringing with a supply of drinking water." Said Sjahroemsjah, the new Tu-16 gunner who knew that they would have to fly to Australia.

The briefing was short. At 1 a.m. the aircraft left Madiun. It flew at low level to avoid the radar until it reached its destination. The F-86 Sabre, the Australian Bloodhound surface-to-air missiles were notably absent. The aircraft then reached Madiun at around 8 a.m. using another route. The other task was given to Sudjijantono and Lieutenant Col. Sardjono. They left Iswahyudi (Madiun) at 12 p.m. The aircraft reached as high as 11,000 m. Approaching dusk they reached Sandakan. While the lights were still on, the aircraft slowly reduced the height to 400 m.

After one sortie, the aircraft reversed to return to the original location. There it was dark, all lights were switched off. Sudjijantono later learnt that the British taught the people to anticipate more air attacks. Finally after all pamphlets had been dropped, they returned to Iswahyudi and landed safety at 8.30 a.m. It worked out that the total journey took 10 hours. All Tu-16s returned to the base safely.

One could not imagine in the 60s that AURI was capable of air penetrations without being detected nor caught by the defenders, not unlike NATO's stealth jets penetrating Yugoslavia.

Political conditions

It was unfortunate to note that foreign political pressure and domestic economic difficulties finally sealed the fate of the mighty Tu-16. For example, "In order for AURI to receive F-86 Sabres and T-33 T-birds from the US, we have to get rid of all the Tu-16s," said Bagio Utomo, who used to be one of the members of Skatek 042, who maintained the Tu-16.

It was undeniable that the Tu-16 was advanced for its time. As well as equipped with the latest electronic gadgets, its body was sturdy. Tu-16s were not perfect, the replacement of spare parts was sometimes difficult. "Some had to be refined and fitted manually. Some of the blisters had to be smoothen by hand." AURI later tried to sell their Tu-16s to the Egyptians but the deal did not materialize.

The farewell flight to the Tu-16 took place in October 1970. With 10 people aboard, a TU-16 numbered M-1625 flew from Madiun to Jakarta. "We almost got lost when we were looking for the National Monument (Monas)." Even up to the middle of the 80s the US government still considered the Tu-16 was a threat for its national security.

"My name is still registered as a Tu-16 pilot in Subic Bay," said Sudjijantono, from Cakra 1. Since the Air and Naval Force could not find spare parts anymore, they realised that they are more dependent on imported advanced technology than the Army. In the begining of 1970, Air Force Chief Air Marshal Suwoto Sukendar said that only 15-20 percent of the Air Force fleet remained operational, while it was 40 percent of the Navydue to the cut-off of imports of spare-parts from the Soviet Union. 1970 became a year of destructing the East Block weapons.(ben/avi/ron/sal/ida)

[Taken from “Angkasa”, Indonesia Space and Aviation Magazine, no. 12, September 1999. Years XI. Some materials here might be copyrighted]

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