Russia deployed a pair of Tu-160 ‘White Swan’ strategic bombers and two support aircraft to South Africa as part of an effort to improve bilateral military cooperation between the two BRICS powers.
A flurry of videos and photos has emerged showing the arrival of Russia’s Tu-160 strategic bombers at Air Force Base Waterkloof in South Africa’s Pretoria.
The materials included footage of an extremely low flyby of a Tu-160, accompanied by to South African Air Force Hawk Mk120 trainer jets, as it approached to land on Wednesday.
News24, a major South African news hub, posted more footage of the bomber taxiing on the runway after landing.
Later, the Twitter account of South Africa’s National Defence Force published photos of the event, showing Russian airmen being greeted by their South African counterparts.
Along with the pair of Tu-160s, the Russian contingent included a Il-62 and an An-124 support plane.
In a statement about the visit earlier this week, Russia’s Defence Ministry indicated that the stopover was aimed at improving “combat training of the flight personnel of the two countries.”
The Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO designation ‘Blackjack’) is a supersonic, nuclear-capable strategic bomber developed in the 1970s and introduced in 1987, and is currently the world’s largest and heaviest supersonic aircraft in operation.
Before Wednesday’s landing, one of the planes was filmed refueling in mid-air on its way to South Africa. They spent a total of over 13 hours in the air, and traveled over 11,000 km during the journey.
The South African mission is the first-ever deployment of a Tu-160 on the African continent. Although Moscow had several allies in southern Africa during the Cold War, including Angola and Mozambique, it did not risk deploying the aircraft there amid tensions with Apartheid South Africa, which was then a Soviet adversary.
In the 1990s, after the end of Apartheid, relations between Russia and South Africa gradually improved, with first post-Apartheid President Nelson Mandela expressing his gratitude for the “solidarity of the Russian people in the South African fight against apartheid and for freedom” during the Cold War. Ties between the two nations deepened further as South Africa joined the BRICS group of nations in 2010, with the two countries expanding energy and strategic cooperation since then.
In a separate development, Wednesday saw the start of the first-ever Russia-Africa summit and business forum in Sochi, southern Russia, with as many as 43 leaders from the continent’s 54 nations confirming their attendance. The forum is aimed at deepening political, economic and trade cooperation between Moscow and the countries of the continent.