Defection of Viktor Belenko
|Date||6 September 1976|
|Summary||Lieutenant Viktor Belenko defected from the USSR to the US by flying his MiG-25P aircraft to Hakodate Airport in Hokkaido, Japan|
The defection of Viktor Belenko took place on September 6, 1976 when Lieutenant Viktor Belenko of the Soviet Air Defence Forces flew his Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-25P “Foxbat” aircraft from near Vladivostok in the Far East of the Soviet Union to Hakodate Airport in Hokkaido Prefecture of Japan.
His defection to the United States caused tension between Japan and the USSR, especially after Japanese and American specialists moved the aircraft to Hyakuri Airbase and disassembled it. It was returned to the USSR in boxes with some parts missing. The examination revealed to the US that while impressive in speed the MiG-25 was not the super-fighter that they had feared it to be.
Viktor Belenko was granted political asylum in the US and became a consultant to the US military. He also became a public speaker and businessman. He later visited Moscow in 1995.
- 1 Background
- 2 Defection flight
- 3 Landing
- 4 Belenko in Japan
- 5 Emergency posture of the SDF
- 6 MiG moved
- 7 Examination at Hyakuri
- 8 Aftermath
- 9 See also
- 10 References
During the Cold War there were many defections by pilots and aircrews. In addition to pilots defecting of their own volition, there were Western efforts to encourage defections, beginning with the US Operation Moolah aimed at encouraging MiG-15 pilots in North Korea to defect. The Kuomintang ruling Taiwan offered gold to defecting Chinese pilots, and the US Operation Fast Buck was similar to Operation Moolah, although aimed at encouraging a MiG-21 pilot in North Vietnam to defect. Operation Diamond was an Israeli operation similar to Operation Fast Buck, and was successful in getting an Iraqi pilot to defect with his MiG-21.
Belenko was not the only pilot to have defected from the USSR in this way, nor was he the first such to defect from a Soviet-bloc country. In March and May 1953, two Polish Air Force pilots flew MiG-15s to Denmark. Later in 1953, North Korean pilot No Kum Sok flew his MiG-15 to an American air base in South Korea; this MiG is on permanent display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force. Later Soviet Captain Aleksandr Zuyev flew his MiG-29 to Trabzon, Turkey on 20 May 1989. The MiG-29 was returned to the USSR.
On September 6, 1976 Belenko and several other pilots from his squadron of the Soviet Air Defense Force took off from Chuguyevka Air Base around 300km from Vladivostok on a training flight. Belenko followed the flight plan at first climbing before descending rapidly and heading out to sea.
Belenko’s map of Hokkaido had only shown Chitose Air Base, and he had planned to land there. He had expected to be intercepted and escorted by military aircraft to a military base, either Chitose or another one. However, the weather was very cloudy and the Japanese ground radar was not able to adequately track Belenko’s aircraft. The Japanese F-4s were new aircraft, only having entered JASDF service in 1974. However, they had poor “look down shoot down” radar and were unable to locate the aircraft either.
With fuel running low and needing to land quickly, he finally located Hakodate Airport in southern Hokkaido.
Belenko circled Hakodate three times and landed at the airport. On landing he almost hit a Boeing 727 airliner that was taking off. Hakodate Airport was too short for his aircraft, so despite deploying the plane’s drogue parachute the front landing gear’s tyre burst and the aircraft ran off 240 meters off the end of the runway. It finally stopped just before the ILS antenna. The aircraft had around 30 seconds of fuel remaining.
Belenko had intended to land at a military airbase and had not planned to arrive at a civilian airport. Local people and workers began to gather and some started taking pictures. Belenko fired into the air with his service pistol.
The Hakodate Air Traffic Controller contacted the SDF but was told to call the police. The police arrived around 2:10pm and closed down the airport.
Belenko in Japan
Belenko was arrested by Hokkaido police for violating Japanese airspace and firearms offences. When interviewed by the police, he requested political asylum in the US.
The Soviet Union requested an interview with Belenko and for him to be returned to their custody. On September 7th Belenko was moved to Tokyo and on the 8th the US announced that it had granted him political asylum.
On September 9th a representative from the Soviet embassy met with Belenko and tried to convince him to return to the USSR, but was unsuccessful. After that Belenko left Japan on a Northwest Orient Airlines flight for the US.
The Soviet Union insisted that Belenko had lost his way and later that he had been drugged by the Japanese. Japanese fishing vessels were seized and their crews imprisoned in what was thought to be retaliation for Japan not returning Belenko and not sending the MiG back promptly.
Emergency posture of the SDF
The MiG’s landing caused great concern in Japan. There were fears that there could be a Soviet attack or attempt to recover the aircraft, either by air or by Soviet agents.
Ground Self-Defense Force
The 11th Division of the GSDF, based in Hakodate was preparing for an open day. After the MiG landed 200 troops deployed to Hakodate Airport with Type 61 tanks and 35mm L-90 anti-aircraft weapons along with men of the 28th Light Infantry Regiment.
Three unknown aircraft came from the west and warning shots were fired. The aircraft turned out to be Kawasaki C-1 transport planes of the JASDF.
As this was done without civilian authorization the documents regarding this were subsequently destroyed.
Maritime Self-Defense Force
The JMSDF deployed vessels around Hokkaido. It had three vessels on the Sea of Japan side and two ships on the Pacific side.
Between September 8th and 25th the MSDF patrolled the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu.
At the same time, MSDF helicopters of the Ōminato Base continually patrolled the Tsugaru Strait.
Air Self Defence Force
With multiple Soviet military aircraft bases close to Hokkaido the F-4EJ fighter aircraft of the JASDF conducted 24-hour patrols over Hokkaido in order to intercept any incoming aircraft.
After its arrival at Hakodate Airport the MiG-25 had been covered to obscure it. Inspecting it closely at a small civilian airport was impractical and it was too large to be moved by Japanese aircraft.
On September 25th it was partly disassembled and taken from Hakodate Airport to Hyakuri Air Base north of Tokyo on a US Air Force Lockheed C-5A Galaxy cargo plane. A banner on the plane (in Japanese) read “Goodbye people of Hakodate, Sorry for the trouble”.
The C-5A was escorted by F-4 Phantoms on its flight from Hokkaido to Honshu.
Examination at Hyakuri
When Belenko left his base on September 6th he had brought a training manual for the aircraft, expecting that he would be demonstrating it to the US Air Force. Given the Soviet pressure to return the aircraft Japan did not permit the US to take the aircraft or to fly it.
However, Japanese and American technicians did disassemble it at Hyakuri and analyze it in detail. Eventually it was packed up into around 40 boxes and was returned to the Soviet Union. The Soviets complained that around 20 pieces were missing. On November 15th it was shipped from Hitachi in Ibaraki to the Soviet Union.
Viktor Belenko moved to the US, was debriefed extensively by the CIA and US military, learned English and gradually adapted to life in the US. The story of his life in the Soviet Union, his defection and his early time in the US was written by John Barron in the book MiG Pilot: The Final Escape of Lieutenant Belenko, published in 1980. Belenko later became a consultant to the US military and aerospace industry, a public speaker and businessman. He also married an American woman and had two children. They later divorced. He never divorced his wife in Russia.
The Soviet government was extremely displeased with the situation and sent Japan a demand for $10 million for the damage to the plane. Japan charged the USSR $40,000 for the damage to Hakodate Airport and shipping costs. Neither bill is known to have been paid.
While Belenko’s flight had been a defection and not an attack, it had highlighted shortcomings in Japan’s air defense system. The inability of Japanese radar to track him and of Japanese fighters to intercept him led to changes in the Japanese defense system.
The JASDF purchased Grumman E-2 Hawkeye airborne warning aircraft and several years later purchased McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles with better look-down radar capacities. The F-15's development had been spurred on by US fears about the MiG-25's capabilities. Japan also later updated the systems of its F-4s to have improved look-down capacities.
A committee visited Chuguyevka air base and were shocked by what they found there. They immediately decided to improve conditions, build a five-story government building, school, kindergarten and other facilities. Treatment of pilots in the far east region was improved.
Prior to Belenko’s defection the outside world had very little knowledge about the MiG-25. The breaching of secrecy around the MiG-25 meant that it could be exported outside the Soviet Union, which it was. It was later operated by Algeria, Bulgaria, India, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. After the dissolution of the USSR it was also operated by the successor states Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan and Ukraine.
The MiG-31 Foxhound was already in development at the time of Belenko's defection and had first flown in September 1975. Belenko was aware of this "Super Foxbat" and informed the US after his defection. The MiG-31 was to gradually replace the MiG-25 in Soviet and later in Russian service.
The US was relieved to discover that the MiG-25 was less advanced but still continued with development of the F-15, which was partly designed to counter the MiG-25. The two models of aircraft were later to meet several times in battle over the Middle East. In the 1980s Israeli F-15As shot down Syrian MiG-25s on several occasions and US F-15s engaged Iraqi Air Force MiG-25s three times during the 1991 Gulf War.
On January 17, 1991 MiG-25s and F-15Cs both fired missiles at each other to no effect. On January 19th 1991 two F-15Cs shot down two MiG-25PDs.[unreliable source?] In the Samurra Air Battle of January 30, 1991 two Iraqi MiG-25s fought two flights of US F-15Cs with neither side scoring kills.
While the US had been unable to keep Belenko's MiG-25P in 1976, it eventually obtained an Iraqi MiG-25 after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. An Iraqi Air Force reconnaissance model, MiG-25RB (s/n 25105) is in the restoration facility at the National Museum of the United States Air Force in Dayton, Ohio, US. This aircraft was located in 2003 during the opening months of Operation Iraqi Freedom by American forces, buried in the sand near Al Taqaddum Airbase, about 250 km west of Baghdad. The aircraft had been buried to prevent its destruction on the ground by coalition aircraft.
When uncovered, the MiG-25RB was incomplete, as the wings could not be located. This aircraft was one of two MiG-25s transported by a Lockheed C-5A Galaxy from Iraq to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base for examination. It was donated to the National Museum of the United States Air Force in December 2006. The museum's restoration staff are currently attempting to locate a set of wings to complete the aircraft for display.
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