From the annals of Baltic Air Policing–otherwise known as “Who intercepted the Russians today?!” files, the latest installment comes from Finland. This past Friday, a pair of Finnish Air Force F/A-18C Hornets were scrambled to intercept a Russian Air Force Ilyushin IL-76.

The cargo aircraft allegedly violated Finnish airspace near the southern coastal town of Porvoo, which is approximately 50 miles to the northeast of that nation’s capital, Helsinki.

This is the seventh confirmed violation of Finnish airspace since the beginning of 2014. Six of those violations belong to Finland’s super loveable neighbor to the east, and number seven belongs to a Polish aircraft (No comment!).

It’s hard to tell if the Russians are consistently gathering intel on NATO allies and their air sovereignty missions or they just don’t give a crap. My WAG is about a 70/30 split, favoring the intel gathering line of thinking.

An RAF Tornado F3 intercepts a Russian Tupolev Tu_160 "Blackjack" supersonic strategic bomber as it nears British airspace in 2010.
An RAF Tornado F3 intercepts a Russian Tupolev Tu_160 “Blackjack” supersonic strategic bomber as it nears British airspace in 2010.

If you’re thinking somewhat like I am, you’re probably wondering something to the effect of, “is this just getting more press because tensions are higher with Russia, or is this something that happens frequently? That, FighterSweep Fans, is a fantastic question.

Although I don’t have statistics for 2015, I was able to find 8 months of data from NATO allies between March and November 2014. This list was compiled by the European Leadership Network:

High-Risk Incidents

  • On 3 March 2014 a close encounter occurred between a SAS passenger plane taking off from Copenhagen and a Russian reconnaissance aircraft which did not transmit its position 50 miles south east of Malmo. A collision was apparently avoided thanks only to good visibility and the alertness of the passenger plane pilots. The SAS 737 plane was carrying 132 passengers to Rome.
  • On 5 September 2014 an Estonian security service operative, Eston Kohver, was abducted by Russian agents from an Estonian border post, on Estonian, and therefore NATO, territory. He was later taken to Moscow and accused of espionage. The incident itself involved communications jamming and the use of smoke grenades, and took place immediately after President Obama’s visit to the region and his repetition of security assurances to the Baltic States.

Serious Incidents with Escalation Risk

  • On 12 April 2014 an unarmed Russian fighter aircraft made 12 passes of the American warship the USS Cook in the Black Sea. Such aggressive behavior, if repeated by an armed aircraft, could have resulted in the ship commander targeting the aircraft in an act of self-defense.
  • On April 23 2014 an armed Russian fighter undertook very threatening maneuvers in the vicinity of an American reconnaissance aircraft in the Sea of Okhotsk. These maneuvers involved demonstrating that the fighter was armed. Such behavior is far removed from what would be expected in a relatively routine encounter.
  • In June 2014 armed Russian aircraft approached the heavily populated Danish island of Bornholm before breaking off in what appears to have been a simulated attack. The Danish intelligence service described the incident as “of a more offensive character than observed in recent years.”
  • On 16 July 2014 an armed Russian aircraft intercepted a Swedish surveillance plane conducting operations between Gotland and Latvia in international airspace, and flew within 10 meters of the plane. This indicated a far more aggressive approach to intercepting aircraft than in previous encounters.
  • On 18 July 2014 an American surveillance plane conducting operations near Kaliningrad was chased into Swedish air-space after being approached by Russian fighters. This evasive action took place without Sweden’s prior approval for the US aircraft to enter Swedish airspace.
  • In early September, 2014 Russian strategic bombers in the Labrador Sea near Canada practiced cruise missile strikes on the United States. The Russian aircraft stayed outside of Canada’s ADIZ but this was still a provocative move in light of the NATO summit ongoing at the time. Cruise missiles launched from the Labrador Sea would have Ottawa, New York, Washington, Chicago, and the Norfolk Naval Base in range.
  • On 7 September 2014 HMCS Toronto (a frigate) was buzzed by a Russian aircraft in the Black Sea, with the plane coming within 300 meters of the warship. HMCS Toronto locked its radar on the Russian plane but took no further action as the aircraft was not armed. This incident coincided with larger Russian naval combat training activities near Sevastopol. Such aggressive behavior, if repeated by an armed aircraft, could have resulted in the ship commander targeting the aircraft in an act of self-defense.
  • On 17 September 2014 two Russian military aircraft crossed into Swedish air-space south of the island of Oland. The Russian Su-24 bombers intentionally violated Swedish airspace possibly to test the capabilities of the air defense system strengthened after previous incidents. The Swedish Foreign Minister described the incident as the ‘most serious aerial incursion’ in years.
  • On 19 September 2014 Russian officers detained a Lithuanian shipping vessel in international waters in the Barents Sea, subsequently towing it to Murmansk. This represented a clear escalation in Russian attempts at the provocation and intimidation of the Baltic States.
  • On 3 October 2014 a Russian fighter flew “within meters” of Swedish surveillance aircraft in the Baltic in an incident deemed “unusually provocative.” A collision between the aircraft would have had serious repercussions for bilateral relations and increased military tensions across the entire Baltic area.
  • From 28-30 October 2014, Russia conducted a major air exercise in the North Sea, Atlantic, Black Sea and Baltic Sea. In a series of developments, aircraft from NATO states and partners tracked Russian long-range bombers conducting missions across this entire area, including a large formation of Russian fighters and bombers conducting missions over the Baltic Sea. All missions were conducted in international airspace but their scale and use of different kinds of aircraft and different zones of operation has added significantly to increased tensions between NATO and Russia.
A U.S. Air Force F-4D Phantom aircraft (top) assigned to the 119th Fighter Wing ÒHappy HooligansÓ, North Dakota Air National Guard, intercepts a United Soviet Socialists Republic (Russian) TU-95 Bear bomber aircraft over the Arctic Ocean, during a flight to Keflavik, Iceland in 1983. Eight Russian TU-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by Hooligan pilots during the deployment. (A3604) (U.S. Air Force Photo) (Released)
A U.S. Air Force F-4D Phantom aircraft (top) assigned to the 119th Fighter Wing ÒHappy HooligansÓ, North Dakota Air National Guard, intercepts a United Soviet Socialists Republic (Russian) TU-95 Bear bomber aircraft over the Arctic Ocean, during a flight to Keflavik, Iceland in 1983. Eight Russian TU-95 Bear bombers were intercepted by Hooligan pilots during the deployment. (A3604) (U.S. Air Force Photo) (Released)

Near Routine Incidents

  • On 10 April 2014 two Russian Navy vessels involved in live missile firing exercises entered Lithuania’s Baltic maritime economic zone, causing serious disruption to shipping.
  • On 20 April 2014 a Russian recon aircraft observed Swedish military installations. Unclear if there was a Swedish response.
  • On 23 April 2014 a Russian aircraft entered Dutch airspace before being intercepted by Dutch fighter aircraft.
  • On 24 April 2014 RAF fighters intercepted and shadowed Russian aircraft in international airspace over the North Sea.
  • On 28 April 2014, fighters with the NATO Baltic Air Policing force scrambled to intercept Russian aircraft in international airspace.
  • On 9 May 2014 Russian aircraft approached to within 50 miles of the Californian coast, the closest such Russian military flight since the Cold War.
  • On 18 May 2014 RAF fighters intercepted a Russian helicopter and shadowed it back to its parent corvette in the Baltic Sea; the fighters later performed several passes of the Russian warship.
  • In late May, early June 2014 Russian aircraft carried out several incursions into the US and Canadian Air Defense Identification Zones in the Arctic.
  • On 12 June 2014, NATO fighters intercepted Russian aircraft in international airspace near Latvia.
  • On 17 June 2014, RAF fighters intercepted a Russian air formation in international airspace.
  • On 19 June 2014; HMS Montrose, a British frigate, was sent to investigate a Russian corvette in international waters near Denmark’s Baltic coast. HMS Montrose was subsequently circled by Russian maritime patrol aircraft.
  • From 21 May to 13 August 2014, a series of short airspace violations by Russian aircraft were reported over the Estonian island of Vaindloo.
  • On 1 August, Polish fighters of the NATO Baltic air-policing mission intercepted Russian aircraft flying near Estonia airspace.
  • In early August 2014 several Russian air incursions were reported into the Alaskan Air Defense Identification Zone.
  • On 7 August 2014 anti-submarine forces of Russia’s Northern Fleet reportedly expelled an American submarine from the Barents Sea. The US denied its submarines were operating in the area.
  • On 28 August 2014, there was an air incident involving an unknown NATO country and Russia. No details beyond aircraft type except that incident took place over the Baltic.
  • In August/September 2014, Russian naval and air units interfered with the operations of a Finnish research vessel on two separate occasions.
  • In late August, 2014, multiple breaches of Finnish air-space by Russian state aircraft were reported. In response, Finland has already indicated that it will react more firmly to violations of its airspace in future.
  • On 11 September 2014, Canadian jets intercepted Russian aircraft in international airspace.
  • Between the 17 and 18 September 2014, Russian jets entered the ADIZ off the coast of Alaska (officials say such incidents happen around 10 times a year) on two separate occasions, once on the evening of Wednesday 17th Sep (USA ADIZ) and once on the morning of Thursday 18th Sep (Canadian ADIZ, Beaufort Sea). The Russian planes were intercepted by American and Canadian fighters. These incidents coincide with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s visits to Ottawa and Washington.
  • On 19 September 2014, RAF jets shadowed Russian aircraft in international airspace above the north sea.
  • On 29 September 2014, Latvian forces observed a Russian warship operating 14 miles from Latvian territorial waters; article observes that Russian jets and warships have been detected 173 times near Latvia’s borders as of September.
  • On 20 October 2014, planes from the Baltic Air Policing mission intercepted Russian surveillance Il-20 aircraft in international airspace
  • On 21 October 2014 Baltic Air Policing planes (Portuguese F-16s) intercepted Russian Il-20 surveillance aircraft which entered Estonian airspace next to the island of Saarema for about a minute.
  • On 31 October 2014, RAF Typhoons intercepted Russian aircraft approaching UK airspace.

It’s nothing new and most of it certainly isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s a chess game that has fascinated me since I was a kid. No one truly knows Putin’s game but Putin, and it will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

(Featured photo courtesy of the Ilmavoimat)

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