Military Review

Sophisticated look behind the Soviets

Sophisticated look behind the SovietsFlights in 1956, in the sky over the Soviet Union, of American automatic reconnaissance balloons equipped with photographic equipment became indirect evidence of the growth of the combat power and effectiveness of the air defense of the Soviet Armed Forces.


When planning a nuclear strike on the territory of the Soviet Union, the US military command needed accurate maps of our country. The data of German aerial photography that the Americans got at the end of World War II as a trophy covered only the European part of the USSR, while the industrial base created in the war years in the Urals, Kazakhstan and Siberia, for reasons beyond the control of the Luftwaffe, did not hit the film. In addition, due to the rapid pace of economic development in the Soviet Union, it was necessary to update the maps inherited from the fascists.

Attempts to violate the airspace over the territory of the USSR, more or less successful for US aircraft at the end of the 1940-s, soon began to be decisively stopped by our air defenses. The intensity of the confrontation in the sky over our country during the Korean War can be judged by the fact that in April-May 1950 of the year three American aircraft B-36 were shot down (April 3 over Libau, April 17 over the Arctic Ocean and 5 May - over the Pacific Ocean).

The death of the aircraft was accompanied by the loss of crews (for B-36 - 10 people), which cooled the ardor of the US Air Force when planning reconnaissance flights over the territory of the USSR.

Having failed to use conventional bomber for reconnaissance over the territory of the USSR, the US Air Force launched two programs, one of which involved the creation of a stratospheric reconnaissance aircraft U-2, and the second involved the use of automatic balloons.


In 1955, US President Dwight Eisenhower came up with the idea of ​​“open skies”. Its essence was that, according to the American president, the USSR and the USA would open to each other their air spaces and airfields, from which both could continuously make reconnaissance flights. This simple step could solve the problem of US nuclear planning. Eisenhower’s conviction that the United States would never strike first was based on two reasons: American morality and the open character of American society, precluding secret mobilization. Therefore, the United States, giving its airspace to the Russians, did not lose anything, but gained a lot. If American pilots had the same rights in the airspace of the Soviet Union, he indicated in his book Eisenhower. Soldier and President. ”S. Ambrose, it would have been impossible for the Russians to secretly launch a nuclear Pearl Harbor or in any other way conceal the rise of their military power.

If we discard the verbal tinsel about the "American morality" and the "open nature of American society", then it was a question of preserving American military superiority over the USSR in order to bring our country to its knees at the right moment. In the event that the USSR abandoned this plan, the United States saved a “big stick”: stratospheric reconnaissance aircraft and spy satellites.

21 July 1955 at the Geneva Summit D. Eisenhower suggested that “each side should give the other a detailed outline of its military facilities, all without exception”, after which it is necessary “to create conditions in our countries for aerial photography from the other side”. The United States promised the USSR to provide airfields and other facilities and allow flights to any place they wished. The USSR was to create similar conditions for the United States. This proposal was rejected by the head of the Soviet delegation N.S. Khrushchev. The USSR, which suffered enormous losses in repelling the fascist invasion, could not allow to inspect our then few nuclear facilities, thus facilitating the potential aggressor of the first strike. The idea of ​​an “open sky” was so controversial that even the American biographer of Eisenhower was forced to note: “Nobody knew how the realization of the“ open sky ”would take place, and, of course, enormous difficulties were ahead; Imagine, for example, the Soviet air base in the midst of the Great Plains or in New England, not to mention the problems associated with the exchange of military schemes. ”

Not having received the desired gift, the US decided to break into the airspace of the USSR by force, and automatic stratospheric aerostat photo reconnaissance had to play the role of a cheap master key. Here, the Americans had the opportunity to take advantage of the experience of England and Japan, which created automatic balloons during the Second World War.


However, to be precise, then the Japanese bombing of the United States with the help of automatic balloons was preceded by the operation of the British Admiralty Outward ("Outside World").

The impetus for this operation was an accident. On the night of September 17-18, 1940, several English barrage balloons were disrupted by a storm and carried off to the countries of Northern Europe. Their steel cables caused numerous short circuits in electrical transmission lines in Denmark and Sweden. Due to damage to the antennas, Swedish International Radio stopped transmitting. Five balloons reached Finland. As a result, the idea was born to send balloons already knowingly to disrupt the operation of power lines in Germany and occupied Europe. Ministry aviation did not support the project, fearing the destruction of the energy supply system in England as a result of similar measures by Germany. The idea was supported by the Boom Defense Department: incendiary bombs can be suspended from the balls, which would allow burning forests on the enemy’s territory, plus automatic balloons will not be accompanied by loss of crews, and the wind direction at an altitude of more than 4,8 km 55% of cases are favorable for balloon launches from England, while only 38% are from Germany.

The first balloons started 20 March 1942 of the year from Harwich. Up to September 4, 1944 99 automatic balloons (142 53 - with incendiary bombs and 543 45 - with steel cables) were released. The operation involved 599 officers and 13 lower ranks, most of them women from the auxiliary corps. The total cost of the operation amounted to 220 thousand pounds sterling. 220 was the most successful on July 12, when the aerostat cable knocked out the 1942 kV transmission line near Leipzig, which caused a fire at the power plant, the total damage of which was 110 million pounds sterling. True, uncontrolled balloons flew into the airspace of neutral countries (Switzerland and Sweden), causing them serious damage. Thus, an aerostat on the night of 1 on 19 in January 20 broke the illumination of the Lund – Falkenberg (Sweden) railway line, which led to a collision of two trains.

From the point of view of design, English automatic balloons were rather primitive, and the operation itself was only a larger version of the Austrians bombing Venice in 1849.


In Japan, work on automatic balloons began in 1927. In 1930, balloons were designed to spread propaganda leaflets across the Amur onto the territory of the USSR (the SEGO project). These balls with a shell with a diameter of 3,9 m could fly to a distance of 62 miles. The possibility of supplying their 10 kg bombs with a temporary fuse was also considered.

By the end of the 30-s, these works were discontinued, but in 1942, interest in the balloons revived again due to the need to attack the US in response to the raids of American aircraft on Japan.

Initially it was supposed to launch automatic balloons from submarines that float off the coast of the United States, but then these plans were abandoned. The army showed great perseverance, by the autumn of 1944, it was able to create balloons that, using jet streams at the border with the stratosphere (these currents were opened in 1923 by Japanese scientists Vasaburo Oishi), could deliver the lethal cargo to the United States within three days. These were FUGO type “A” balloons with an open type shell (diameter 9,8 m, volume 1800 cubic m), the suspension of which was equipped with an automatic ballast (sand) discharge circuit. Resetting the ballast compensated for the loss of gas escaping from the shell when it was heated by sunlight. Balloons carried from two to six bombs (usually four incendiary bombs of 5 kg and two fragmentation bombs of 12 kg).

The attacks were carried out from 3 November 1944 of the year to 16 – 17 of April 1945. According to the testimony of the project manager of General Kusab, a total of 6 thousand balloons were launched, of which not less than 355 reached the United States (even in 1978, there was a case where the remains of a Japanese balloon were found). The greatest success was achieved on 10 in March on 1945, when the balloon knocked out the power line in Bonneville, stopping the production of Henutford plutonium for three days.

Despite the fact that only a small number of balloons were intercepted by the US Air Force, relying, moreover, on the East Coast radar network, the balloon launches were stopped. This was facilitated by the silence of the US press about the incidents involving balloons, which deprived the Japanese of information about the effectiveness of the weapons.

Part of the Japanese balloons hit the territory of the USSR. It turned out when in July-August 1944 of the year it was noticed that the number of fires in the Siberian taiga increased by 10 times compared with the usual level. To determine the cause, a state commission went there, including the designer of the SSCB-47 Demidenko. The commission found that some Japanese balloons, the shells of which were made of rice paper, lost gas tightness and fell below the jet streams. Getting into local streams over the Pacific Ocean, they changed their course and flew to Western Siberia, where their bombs set fire to the taiga.

The fact of the appearance of Japanese balloons in the taiga was recorded, but by the order of the command, which sought not to give a reason for violating peace on the eastern border of the USSR, was classified and did not even become a reason for diplomatic notes.


The American operation of organizing reconnaissance flights of automatic balloons over the USSR was called “Moby Dick”, inspired by the novel by Herman Melville. This name turned out to be highly symbolic: again, the crazy captains of Ahab sought to plunge their, now nuclear-missile, harpoons into World Evil, which the Soviet Union was no longer a white sperm whale incarnate for them.

To clarify the possibility of using reconnaissance balloons, mass casting of propaganda literature, creating radio interference, providing long-distance radio communications and launching rockets from them, American, as well as British and Japanese specialists were involved. Thanks to their efforts, by the middle of the 1950s, the United States had automatic balloons that could drift in the stratosphere for months. Their carrying capacity was equal to several tens of kilograms. Such balloons, starting in January 1956 from the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany and Turkey, reached the territory of the USSR in the streams of jet streams. All automatic balloons were supplied with aerial camera and special devices for determining the coordinates of the terrain being removed.

Of the 1600 automatic balloons launched from the territory of the Federal Republic of Germany, half were shot down by our pilots, but the rest splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, where they were picked up by American ships. Only by the Baku Air Defense District in 1956 was 400 aerial photographic reconnaissance aircraft launched from the territory of Turkey shot down. One of these balloons shot down the hero of the Korean War, Captain Savichev. His MiG-17 shot the ball from the first approach. It was the first automatic aerostat-photo reconnaissance, shot down by Soviet pilots.


The USSR government reacted immediately to the mass launch of American automatic balloons. 4 February 1956, the US ambassador in Moscow, was handed a note stating that the balloons surveyed in January 1956 showed that they and their equipment were made in the USA. The actions of the American military were viewed as a violation of the territorial integrity of the USSR. Notes similar in content were poisoned by the governments of Germany and Turkey. With notes of protest to the US government over the passage of automatic balloons turned Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, China and Romania. Czechoslovakia sent a telegram to the UN Secretary General.

At the same time, the Air Force Aeronautical Service, the Aeronautical Scientific Testing Center and the Experimental Design Bureau-424 of the State Committee for Aeronautical Engineering were created in the USSR. After the measures taken by the USSR, the flights of spy balls ceased for a while.

In 1958 – 1959, the second mass launch of American photo prospectors was carried out on the territory of the USSR. Most of these devices had a new shell with a volume of 11 500 cube. m, which allowed them to fly at altitudes to 23 km for four or five days. Some American automatic balloons had a shell volume 120 thousand cubic meters. m, which provided the flight of such photo reconnaissance aircraft at an altitude of 28 – 32 km.

September 4 The Pravda and Izvestia newspapers 1958 put another note of the Soviet government. It said: “Recently, several balloons have been caught in the airspace of the USSR with equipment attached to them, which includes automatic drifting cameras for aerial photography of the area, transceiver equipment, etc. A survey of the equipment shows that it is made in the USA and that the launch of the balls is produced by the USAF. ”

Balloons of the second wave got off with great difficulty, some shells exploded, hitting the interceptor planes. There were cases of the death of the pilots.


In 1967, the USSR government commissioned the Myasishchev Design Bureau to develop an “aviation complex for intercepting and hitting automatic balloons”. Studies have shown that a high-altitude subsonic fighter aircraft with cannon armament (cheaper than a rocket) and an optical ball detection system are best suited to combat automatic aerostats. Work on the creation of such an aircraft was carried out in the Myasishchev OKB from 1970 to 1978 a year and ended with the appearance of the Stratosphere M-17 aircraft.

Some American automatic balloons for some reason lost their voyage force and landed on Soviet territory. In 1959, two American automatic balloons landed near Stalingrad. They walked at an altitude of 32 km and were not seen by the then air defense detection means. The landed balloons allowed the Soviet aeronauts to familiarize themselves with the whole shell, completely new type of photo equipment and other modern equipment of automatic balloons.

Trophy balloons also played a well-known role in ensuring the triumph of the Soviet cosmonautics — circling the moon with photographing its back side. AMS Luna-3 7 – 18 October 1959. According to the testimony of the deputy designer of the Yenisei theme (a set of television equipment for receiving photographs of the far side of the moon on Earth, developed at the Research Institute of Television) PF Bratslavts and leading engineer on-board camera Yu.P. Lagutin, the domestic industry by that time had not yet mastered the production of photographic film that met the requirements (the Moon was filmed using an on-board photo and television camera on film, which then appeared and rewound into a special drive, the image was read from the developed film and transmitted to Earth). As a result, in the onboard equipment was used American film with reconnaissance balls, transmitted VNII television from VVIA them. A.F. Mozhaisky. The film was cut to size (35 mm) and perforated. This was the way to get the ASh film (i.e. “American balls”).

In general, the US research and military centers in 1952 – 1962 have launched such a number of automatic balloons of various types, which far exceeds the number of launches in all other countries taken together for the entire previous history aeronautics.


In addition to the American automatic aerostat-photo reconnaissance aircraft in the 1950-s, propaganda balls of the so-called People’s Labor Union (NTS) began to fall into the airspace of the USSR, throwing anti-Soviet leaflets. Figures created by Hitlerite intelligence NTS, happily avoiding loops or GULAG in 1945, passed under the patronage of the CIA. Throwing out the anti-Semitic passages of the former owners that became irrelevant to their program, the Eagles and the Eagles of the NTS continued the struggle against the USSR. The shells and equipment of the balloons thrown by them in general corresponded to the American ones. The propaganda balloon launches were carried out from West Germany. The diplomatic demarche of the USSR forced the German government to cease the activities of these amateur aeronauts.

In 1962, the reconnaissance balloon program was curtailed, but their place in the espionage system against the USSR was taken not by the U-2 stratospheric reconnaissance aircraft, but by space reconnaissance vehicles. There were reasons for this. It is known that three US U-2 aircraft were shot down by anti-aircraft missiles in the airspace of other states (1 in May 1960 of the year in the Sverdlovsk region, in China and in Cuba). Intrusions into the airspace of sovereign states repeatedly caused international scandals, the loudest of which took place in May 1960 of the year, when the pilot Powers aircraft shot down near Sverdlovsk fell to the dock in Moscow.

The adoption of the Soviet C-200 long-range air defense system of various modifications made it possible to reliably close the airspace at the near and far approaches to the country's border, including from the famous SR-71 Black Bird reconnaissance aircraft. As a result, for many years reconnaissance aircraft of the United States and NATO countries were forced to make reconnaissance flights only along the borders of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact countries.

In the situation of the established nuclear-missile parity between the USSR and the USA, which excluded implementation of Dropshot-type plans that are painless for America, and the growth of the power of the national air defense, the American strategists turned into space.


As is known, the military component was completely absent in the works of the domestic founders of cosmonautics. As for the works of foreign pioneers of cosmonautics, already in 1923, German Obert (Germany), describing the areas of application of future space laboratories in Earth orbit (according to modern terminology of “orbital space stations”), emphasized: “Their strategic importance, especially in the theater of war, with little cloud cover obvious; Indeed, it is difficult to underestimate the significance of these orbital laboratories for a state that wages a war and which possesses these laboratories. On the other hand, the states that wage war would give a lot for the valuable information that the state with such laboratories can tell them. ”

Despite the archaic, even for 1920-ies, communication with the space laboratory using a heliograph (an optical communication device transmitting a message with light flashes received by rocking a flat mirror reflecting the radiation of a natural or artificial light source) and reassessing the noise from photographing clouds (infrared photograph has not yet left the walls of the laboratories), the rest of the word Oberth and now sound quite modern.

In the US, space reconnaissance projects began to be developed from the middle of the 1950s, and already in 1960, the first CORONA-type reconnaissance satellites appeared in orbit around the Earth. In the USSR, S.P. Korolev in 1958 year initiated work on the satellite to photograph the earth's surface, and the footage was supposed to be dumped in special capsules (however, this satellite with an equal basis can be considered the forerunner of Soviet meteorological satellites). So intelligence activities were transferred to space.

However, the development of space reconnaissance technology did not lead to the complete abandonment of the use of automatic reconnaissance balloons. This was due primarily to the need to obtain photographs of small targets with a resolution that is impossible to obtain from space orbit.

Already in 1970-s in the United States, a new generation of automatic reconnaissance balloons was developed, whose envelopes were able to maintain a given level of survivability, even after receiving several holes from missile fragments. They could also change the flight altitude for a given program and maneuver.


11 August - 14 September 1975, 11 automatic balloons penetrated the airspace over the territory of the USSR. They drifted at altitudes of 11 – 14 km with speeds up to 200 km / h. For each intruder, from 1 to 16 interceptors MiG-21, Yak-28P, Tu-128, MiG-19, Su-15TM. As a result of the attacks, eight reconnaissance balloons were shot down, two had their suspension broken, and one went abroad. On average, as indicated in the 19 June 1993 of the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper, 1,4 rockets, 26 unguided rockets, 112 cannon shells were spent for each aerostat shot down.

Another large-scale wave of launches of automatic balloons took place in 1980 – 1981. It was associated with the deployment of American cruise missiles and Pershing-type ballistic missiles in Western Europe. On the planned flight routes of these missiles, small-sized balloons were launched, flying at low altitudes and intended to increase the accuracy of the missile deployment and calculate the permanent dynamic error caused by wind loads.

These were automatic balloons in the form of an ellipsoid, pear-shaped and spherical eggs. Under the shell, there was attached a squib of self-destruction, a solar kapellpyramid, which allows to obtain solar energy at all angles of its height, and a battery with an energy capacity for 12 operating hours. The starting point for small-sized balloons was the NATO test site for testing optical-electronic equipment on the island Lollan (Denmark) and the aerospace test site in Kiruna in northern Sweden.

Small-sized spheres also solved other problems: clarifying the location, composition and characteristics of the Soviet radio intelligence system, assessing its ability to detect and accompany low-flying targets, whose EPR is comparable to the EPR of cruise missiles; overload of air defense information media; maintaining air defense in constant tension and distracting it from reconnaissance aircraft patrolling along the Baltic coast; provoking a useless expenditure of a weapon resource, reducing vigilance of command posts calculations when assessing the air situation.

Due to the fact that from a tactical point of view, small-sized balls could not be knocked down by either airplanes or air defense missile systems, and from an economic point of view it was very unprofitable to destroy them with anti-aircraft and aviation means, an unexpected and very ingenious decision was made ... to catch balls with a net attached to the helicopter. To determine the possibility of hitting small-sized balls at the air defense ground, experimental firing was conducted on them. At the same time, only 28 took place from 6 hoverings from the ground. Already in 1989 – 1990 prices, the cost of hitting one small balloon by helicopter was several thousand rubles, and by plane — to several millions. The defeat of small balls SAMs turned out to be ineffective. Soon, and the domestic industry began to produce such balloons.

In total, 1956 – 1977 had detected 4112 automatic balloons by subdivisions of the radio engineering troops of the Soviet air defense, of which 793 was shot down. The owners of the spy balls were the USA, France, Finland, Germany, Norway, Sweden and other states. Not all automatic drifting balloons were reconnaissance and agitation. There were also balloons that performed scientific tasks. Of these, 39% automatic balloons flew into the USSR from the south-west, 36% from the west, 22% from the north-west, and 3% from the east. This is due to the direction of steady jet streams.

The practice of such flights continued into the 1990s. So, 2 September 1990, the calculations of the radar of the radio engineering troops of the USSR Armed Forces discovered a target that crossed the state border in the region of Fr. Kildin. Having passed over strategic objects, the automatic balloon began to move towards Finland. The September 29 balloon was shot down by a Su-3TM fighter aircraft piloted by Captain I. Zdatchenko.

Military analysts initially suggested that this is a scientific automatic balloon like the PIROG of the Swedish Space Corporation, which is used to study the physics and chemistry of the interstellar medium, and it accidentally flew into the territory of the USSR. For this reason, the suspension of the shot down balloon was returned to the Swedish side. A deeper analysis of the tactical and technical characteristics of the balloon and the situation on the route of its flight allowed the UPU Air Force and Air Defense Specialists to express a new assumption that the balloon "watched" strategic missile launches at the Plesetsk range. In the same year, the reconnaissance balloon was shot down by pilots Derevchenko and Shirochenko.


24 March 1992 of the Year in Helsinki, the Russian Federation signed the Open Skies Treaty. Although this treaty 27 states of Europe (including Great Britain, Germany, France and Spain) and America (USA and Canada), without ratification by Russia, it lost all meaning, because the West was deprived of the opportunity to legally conduct intelligence activities in the sky of the Russian Federation. 29 May 2001 The treaty was submitted by the president for ratification to the State Duma and ratified in 2002. The declared objectives of the treaty are the promotion of greater openness and transparency in military activities, as well as the strengthening of security through confidence-building measures, the further development and strengthening of peace through cooperation.

The treaty provides the right for participating States to fly over each other’s territories to observe dangerous military activities within the framework of the commitments made by the parties to the OSCE. It regulates the practical activities of missions during observation flights, determines the mechanism for monitoring compliance with the requirements of the treaty, contains requirements for the aircraft, composition and technical capabilities of the observation equipment, and provides for monitoring from the air of the entire territory of the participating States.

The unprecedented concessions made to the West during the years of the so-called perestroika did not weaken at all, but, on the contrary, increased the intelligence activities of the NATO countries in our homeland. Automatic reconnaissance balloons continue to play a significant role in it. According to representatives of the air defenses, spy balloons with a steady periodicity continue to violate the state border of Russia even today. They extract information in volumes comparable to information obtained from reconnaissance aircraft and aerial satellites.

So, 6 February 2002, an automatic drifting reconnaissance balloon launched from the territory of Sweden and crossed the air border of Russia and Kazakhstan, self-destructed at an altitude of 16 km near Petropavlovsk. Kazakhstani authorities announced that it was a radiosonde ozonometer ...

Also from publications in the media it is known that in 2004, the US Air Force studied the possibility of mass use of automatic balloons for reconnaissance purposes. Balloons must take photographs of the earth's surface and transmit the resulting images to the command post. The main advantage of this technology is its low cost. The approximate cost of one such balloon, equipped with a digital camera and a radio station, does not exceed 600 dollars, and the quality of photographs is practically not inferior to the quality of the images obtained by the satellite.

It can be assumed that even today, meteorological probes or reconnaissance balloons continue to fly over the territory of Russia and the CIS countries. Especially since when you follow the links of NASA or high-altitude balloon and airship developers to the US Air Force resource dedicated to these aircraft, it is no longer available.

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  1. Dekabrist
    Dekabrist 24 December 2016 15: 41
    The authors are quite worthy people and, logically, competent. The article is good. However, some incompleteness, perhaps, is surprising.
    It would be logical to highlight the current state of affairs. Is there really no access to information with such regalia?
    1. GSH-18
      GSH-18 24 December 2016 17: 23
      Sophisticated look behind the Soviets

      Yeah, Powers was taking a look!
  2. Kenneth
    Kenneth 24 December 2016 17: 17
    When there are smartphones and social networks, the availability of reconnaissance satellites and aircraft is not so relevant.
  3. antivirus
    antivirus 24 December 2016 20: 07
    1. dep071
      dep071 26 December 2016 13: 57
      A PARTNERS in FOOD))))
  4. albert
    albert 24 December 2016 20: 37
    They shot down a B-36? Nonsense. A B-25 was shot down over Libavoy, a B-29R near Kamchatka and a B-25 in the North. A B-36 was a huge strategist and the Americans didn’t launch him into our territory, although they had a scout modification.