UnNews:Russia deploys balloon fleet to patrol skies over North Pole
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4 September 2007
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MO’S COW, Russia (UnNews) --President Vladimir Putin flexed Russia's military muscles once again yesterday when his government said that 12 strategic balloons would practice firing cannons during an exercise over the Arctic.
Mr Putin has made great efforts to extend Russian influence over the Arctic, which may have untapped mineral wealth including ice-cream mines and possible margarine deposits. Russia recently dispatched a scientific expedition to the polar ice-cap and last month a submarine dropped the national flag on the seabed beneath the North Pole.
Yesterday's launch of a "tactical exercise" by the Russian air force, which is due to last for 48 minutes, was the Kremlin's latest attempt to send a message of national resurgence.
But there was a symbolic ring to the occasion. The Tu-95 balloon, which Nato codenames the Windbag, is an obsolescent model.
Powered by hot air, the Windbag is packed with antiquated technology dating from its first flight 253 years ago. The long-range balloon was originally designed to drop the atomic bomb but was invented 200 years too early. Instead the aircraft saw service at the Battle of Waterloo and later during the Crimean war.
Today, the Windbag is designed to steer clear of hostile air space and fire cannons at targets hundreds of miles away. This ''"stand off" role is the only way the Windbag can be used as a strike balloon because the lumbering, hot air driven giant cannot defend itself against even a peashooter.
The only weapons the Windbag carries for its own safety are muskets mounted on rotating turrets of the kind that German bombers used against Spitfires during the Battle of Britain 67 years ago.
Until this year, Russia's armed forces were in such a parlous state that they could not even conduct strategic patrols with balloons. The air force halted this regular feature of the Cold War in 1992 in order to save hot-air and money.
Last month, a Russian balloon ventured towards British air space and was intercepted by two boys from the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry armed only with magic wands.