The UK’s Royal Air Force scrambled Typhoon fighter jets to intercept two Russian Blackjack Tupolev Tu-160 long-range bombers flying near the UK’s airspace on Thursday.
The Russian Tu-60 bombers are capable of carrying long-range, nuclear ballistic missiles as a part of their payload, meaning that they could potentially pose a direct threat to UK security without violating their airspace.
It is considered standard operating procedure to scramble jets to intercept military aircraft flying close to or violating a nation’s sovereign airspace. Russia is no stranger to these types of seemingly aggressive training exercises and flight operations. Last September, the United States lodged a formal complaint with the Russians over one of their fighter jets making an “unsafe intercept” of an US military aircraft over the Black Sea, and multiple incidents involving Russian aircraft and US military ships and planes earlier in the year prompted the Pentagon to address the issue with the Kremlin directly.
“There have been repeated incidents over the past year where Russian aircraft have come close enough to other air and sea traffic to raise serious safety concerns.” Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis told reporters at the time.
This most recent provocation was likely another of the Russian military’s recent increase in training exercises aimed at preparing the nation for the possibility of war. The Russian bombers did not violate UK airspace, but by flying close to the invisible border, they are sending a clear message to NATO about Russia’s military capabilities.
“We can confirm that quick reaction alert Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby scrambled to monitor two Blackjack bombers while they were in the UK area of interest.” An RAF spokesman told reporters on Thursday. “At no point did the Russian aircraft enter UK territorial airspace.”
It is believed that the Russian bombers followed a flight plan that took them between the Shetland and Faroe Islands, then down the west coast of Ireland. A recent statement made by Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu would seem to indicate that the ramping up of Russian military aircraft operations is in preparation for a potential war with NATO.
“In accordance with the decision by the Armed Forces Supreme Commander, a snap check of the Aerospace Forces began to evaluate readiness of the control agencies and troops to carry out combat training tasks,” Shoigu said to Russian state media outlets. “Special attention should be paid to combat alert, deployment of air defense systems for a time of war and air groupings’ readiness to repel the aggression.”
Last month, Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, passed through the English Channel and was met by a Royal Navy escort, as well as chiding words from the UK’s Secretary of Defense.
“We are keeping a close eye on the Admiral Kuznetsov as it skulks back to Russia; a ship of shame whose mission has only extended the suffering of the Syrian people,” Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon said.
Fallon’s words were in reference to the Admiral Kuznetsov launching air strikes against Syrian rebels in places like Aleppo, where the fighting was particularly brutal between Syrian military forces and rebel militants.
Image courtesy of MOD Crown/Standard