British Royal Air Force (RAF) jets scrambled to intercept potential Russian intruders eight times in 2014 alone, the U.K. Ministry of Defense revealed after last week's confrontation between RAF Typhoon fighter jets and a pair of long range Russian Tu-95 bombers — one of them carrying a nuclear warhead.
While last Wednesday's nerve-wracking showdown in the skies over the English channel was the first RAF encounter with Russian aircraft in 2015, the U.K. was forced to send fighter jets into the skies not only eight times in 2014, but the same number in 2013 as well, according to information provided by the Defense Ministry.
In one two-day period last November, RAF jets took to the skies twice to cut off incoming Russian planes.
The U.K. defense officials released the information after a request by Angus Robertson, a member of the British Parliament.
In addition, the U.K. "Quick Response Alert" (QRA) was activated another 13 times in 2014 to identify rogue civilian planes straying too close to British air space.
"QRA launches in 2014, or any other year, were to determine the identification of any aircraft approaching, or in, NATO monitored or national airspace without prior approval or not having identified themselves and which could not be identified by any other remains," the British Defense Ministry spokesperson said in a prepared statement. "I can therefore confirm that all launches within the period requested were either for Russian military aviation which approached the NATO Air Policing Area for which the United Kingdom has responsibility of civil aircraft within UK civil airspace that were causing concern to Air Traffic Controller."
The ministry added that RAF jets did not intercept every Russian plane or other aircraft that came too close to Great Britain, because in some cases, security officials were able to get identification information on the aircraft without the British fighters coming close to the intruders.
None of the Russian planes actually penetrated U.K. air space, the ministry noted.
In an incident that alarmed the British government — and public — last week, RAF Typhoon jets intercepted two Russian bombers over the English channel.
Norwegian fighters earlier last Wednesday, January 28, intercepted a fleet of six Russian aircraft, including the same two Tu-95 "Bear" bombers. Norwegian military intelligence eavesdropped on Russian conversations revealing that one of the bombers was carrying a missile designed to be dropped from the air — a missile equipped with a nuclear warhead.
The Norwegians immediately alerted the British military, and Prime Minister David Cameron was alerted to the incoming Russian nuclear bomber.
The nuclear warhead carried by the Russian Tu-95, that set off the emergency scramble by RAF jets, was understood not to have been armed.
[Image: U.K. Ministry of Defense]