British jets intercept Russian planes flying near UK airspace
Nato warn of ‘unusual’ increase in Russian military flights in European airspace
The Russian Ambassador has been summoned by the UK Foreign Office to account for Russian military aircraft - seen above - flying close to UK airspace. Photograph: PA
The RAF has intercepted Russian military aircraft as they neared UK airspace for the second time this week, the UK ministry of defence has said.
The Soviet-era Tupolev Tu-95 aircraft – also known as a Bear bomber – flying in international airspace was intercepted by Typhoon fighters from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland on Friday and escorted through British skies.
A spokeswoman said the Russian aircraft had been picked up by the RAF control and reporting centre at Boulmer, Northumberland, which scrambled the Typhoons.
The RAF pilots visually identified the Russian aircraft and escorted them through UK airspace, she said.
The intervention follows a similar incident on Wednesday, when two Bear bombers were tracked over the North Sea as Nato radars picked up a series of Russian formations engaged in “significant military manoeuvres” ranging from the Black Sea to the Atlantic Ocean.
The exercises prompted Nato to warn of an “unusual” increase in Russian military flights in European airspace.
Its jets had intercepted four groups of Russian aircraft within 24 hours by Wednesday and some were still on manoeuvres late that afternoon.
The two Bears that neared Britain on Wednesday had been part of a larger formation of eight aircraft – including four Il-78 tanker planes – intercepted by Norwegian F-16 fighters in international airspace over the Norwegian Sea.
While six of the planes returned back towards Russia, the two Bears carried on towards the UK where they were picked up by Boulmer in Northumberland.
The bombers continued over the Atlantic to the west of Portugal, where they were intercepted by Portuguese air force F-16 fighters before turning back.
The Russian flight coincided with similar incidents over the Black Sea and the Baltic where Russian military formations were intercepted by Turkish fighters and Portuguese jets assigned to the Nato Baltic air-policing mission.
The distinctive Bear, which has two counter-rotating propellers on each engine, has been described as the 1950s equivalent of the US B-52. It was originally designed to carry two nuclear bombs to targets in the continental US.
More recent variants of the Bear have been used for maritime surveillance and anti-submarine warfare.
The aerial exercises come amid a background of months of heightened tensions between Moscow and the west following Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military incursion into Ukraine.
Nato said it had conducted more than 100 such intercepts of Russian aircraft this year – about three times as many as in 2013 before the confrontation with Moscow over separatist revolts in Ukraine soured relations.
President Vladimir Putin has committed to reinvigorating Russia’s armed forces, which had been diminished by the economic woes that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Tension over Ukraine has seen Nato step up its vigilance, particularly for member countries that shared a border with Russia.
The spokesman said there was no particular reason for concern over Russian warplanes flying in international air space, but that such exercises were shadowed by Nato aircraft as a precaution and to protect civil air traffic.
RAF Typhoons were also scrambled on Wednesday to intercept a civilian plane that has aroused the suspicions of air traffic controllers. The jets created a sonic boom over Kent, alarming thousands of residents.
The Russian-made Antonov An-26 cargo airliner was escorted to Stansted airport after being intercepted by jets from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire when communication with the Latvian-registered plane was lost.
The plane, which was transporting car parts, was later allowed to continue on its original destination, Birmingham.