I Was There: Bring Down the Spyplane
MIG-17 vs. Lockheed U-2.
- By Bob Bergin
- Air & Space magazine, May 2012
Courtesy Bob Bergin
(Page 4 of 6)
We tried to use the TU-4 to pursue and attack the P2V. This project was not successful. The Tu-4 was just too big and too slow, and it was accident-prone. At least one of them flew into the ground.
And then there were the Russian Ilyushin IL-28 jet bombers that were used as “illuminators.” The idea was to use IL-28s to fly in front of the PV2 and drop flares that would light it up so the MiG fighter chasing it could see it.
Yes, that’s what we tried to do, but again it was not very successful. It was not flares the Il-28 would drop, but a searchlight mounted on the IL-28. The IL-28 would try to fly above and ahead of the PV2, and then turn on the searchlight to light up the P2Vs fuselage so the chasing MiG pilot could see it.
In practice, this was very difficult to do. It was all a matter of coordination. There were three people involved: the pilot of the IL-28, the pilot of the MiG interceptor, and GCI controller. The controller and both pilots first had to find the target. Then the IL-28 pilot had to get above and ahead of the target, and light it up as the MiG was trying to get into position to fire. The controller on the ground had to follow the P2V and simultaneously move the IL-28 and the MiG into position on an airplane they couldn’t see. When the IL-28’s searchlight was turned on and illuminated the P2V’s fuselage, the MiG already had to be in position to fire.
What else was tried against the P2Vs?
We wracked our brains to come up with ideas to that would defeat the P2V missions. For example, we tried to set up ambushes in remote areas. We knew that the P2V would always fly at low altitude. Over time, we became very familiar with the kind of routes they needed to fly. We would concentrate our anti-aircraft artillery in the areas we believed they were likely to fly over, and position the guns in such a way that when the P2V entered the area, our artillery could fire at it from different directions.
The P2Vs flew long missions. How was PLAAF coordination handled as the intruder passed from sector to sector?
There were searchlights on the ground as well as radar, but the radars were the most important. They were set up in a chain that allowed us to track the intruders over their entire route.
There were three MiG squadrons that were used against the P2Vs: in Nanjing, Shanghai, and a third in Xuzhou, the northern part of Jiangsu province. Each squadron was responsible for its own sector of the sky. The squadrons were kept on alert, and when a PV2 entered a squadron’s sector, that squadron was ordered into action. Because the P2Vs flew at such a low altitude and could elude the radars, its known movements were coordinated from sector to sector.
How much warning would you get of an incoming P2V mission?
We had intelligence collection that gave us advance warning of an intruder flight. We could intercept signals intelligence that provided indications of an intruder fight, long before that flight took off. From the preparations that we knew were being made on the ground in Taiwan, we could do some calculations and determine when the aircraft would take off and also get some idea of its planned route.
Where would your radars first pick up an intruder?
We could pick them up only at very short range, about 100 kilometers [62 miles] out at sea. Even with a radar station on top of mountain, we still had difficulty tracking incoming aircraft. The P2Vs stayed down very low as they came in, and were hard to pick up. And with the P2Vs being that low, our radar would pick up strong reflections from the waves. In that clutter the PV2 was difficult to track. There were many difficulties that we had to overcome.
And it was also always difficult for the Taiwanese aircrews. They always risked their lives intruding our airspace. These were very dangerous missions for them, and they became even more dangerous for the Taiwanese as PLAAF units all over the country established their own night flying squadrons. It became routine for PLAAF pilots to fly at night.