Royal Air Force (RAF) fighters scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-95 bombers, commonly known as “bears,” that were flying over the English Channel south of Bournemouth, England. The provocative move not only activated British fighters, but forced civilian aircraft to reroute. The bomber incident is the latest in a long line of aerial encounters with Russia but was significant for its brazen flight path south of England.
The Financial Times reports that it was one of the most serious incidents since the West sanctioned Russia for annexing Crimea last year. The sanctions marked the beginning of deteriorating relations between the West and Russia, and an increase in aerial incidents.
The RAF released a statement describing the encounter the day after activating the fighters.
“Yesterday’s mission lasted for over 12 hours; the operations room was both calm and focused. We constantly train for these scenarios so that we are well-rehearsed and ready to maintain the integrity of our airspace… Once ordered to by the Nato Combined Air Operations Centre in Germany, Typhoon quick reaction alert fighters were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth to intercept and identify the aircraft. Integration with our colleagues in the Royal Navy provided additional surveillance coverage and added value to the mission.”
The Russian ambassador in Britain has been summoned to explain the situation. It’s the first time the ambassador will have to account for the increased aerial activity from his home country.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, 2014 was a record year for aerial encounters between NATO forces and Russia — at least since the end of the Cold War. Many of these incidents showcase the danger involved in fighter interceptions.
According to CNN, a November report from the European Leadership Network listed 40 “close military encounters between Russia and the West” from March to October last year. Out of those 40, three were classified as “high-risk” incidents which might trigger a military confrontation between Western countries and Russia.
Last November, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the rise of the aerial encounters was reminiscent of the Cold War era. But the recent RAF fighter scramble was more disturbing in a couple of ways
The Financial Times noted that during the Cold War, Russian bombers never ventured so far south and into the English Channel. Although the latest bomber flight path never entered British airspace, they were in the “UK area of interest” and created a dangerous situation for civilian airlines.
The Russian bombers flew through a critical air lane between Britain and Europe. Even more distressing is that the bombers turned off their transponders, making them invisible to civilian aircraft controllers. Government officials had to reroute some civilian flights as a precautionary measure.
As relations continue to go cold, RAF fighters will have a lot more work to do in the near future.
[Image Credit: Sergey Krivchikov/Wikimedia Commons]