Expert Witness

The EWO and the MIRV: Cold war talk for an RC-135 crew’s lucky day.

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Just as Boeing 707 and KC-135 airframes were made into a wide array of variants, including the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and the RC-135, the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber, which entered service in 1956, spun off many versions.

Over its 30-year production run, the Bear, developed from the Tupolev Tu-4—itself a copy of the Boeing B-29—was produced in electronic intelligence gathering, airborne test, photo-reconnaissance, and communications relay versions for the Soviet, and later Russian, air forces. For the navy, the Tu-95 was modified into the Tu-142 anti-submarine aircraft, and for the civilian airline Aeroflot, it was made into the Tu-114, which featured a new fuselage but retained the Bear’s wings, main landing gear, and engine assemblies, as well as a nearly identical cockpit. The design came full circle when Tupolev used the Tu-114 and later -116 as the basis for new military versions, including the Tu-126, an airborne-radar craft with a large rotating antenna, similar to a Boeing E-3 AWACS.

When the Bear became vulnerable to ground-based air defenses in the 1960s and 1970s, it was transformed into a platform for deploying air-launched cruise missiles, or ALCMs, capable of striking targets far over the horizon. In this role and in its longstanding avoidance of the scrap heap, the Bear is like its principal cold war rival, the equally long-lived Boeing B-52.

—John Sotham

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