In the largest intercept of Russian jets so far in 2015, NATO fighters were forced to escort not just one, not just two, or even five — but 11 Russian aircraft as the Russians flew under cover of night with their transponders turned off and with no flight plans on file. The Russian pilots refused to respond when contacted by NATO as they flew over the Baltic Sea off of NATO member nation Latvia.
The startling confrontation between NATO fighters and nearly a dozen Russian jets came just a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russia’s military announced the start of massive military exercises in the region and that nuclear capable bombers would be moved to bases in Crimea.
The showdown in the night sky also came just four days after a top U.S. admiral, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) chief William Gortney, warned the United States Congress that increased Russian military activity, including numerous flights by Russian fighter and bomber jets near NATO territories, posed a serious threat to the United States ability to defend itself against an aerial attack.
Tuesday’s intercept came after NATO detected what turned out to be three Russian transport jets, five long-range Su-27, and three deadly Su-34 fighter bombers — similar to the Su-34 jet pictured above — flying dangerously close to Lithuanian airspace with no warning of their presence.
According to security experts, the Russian jets were in all likelihood not simply flying an innocent training mission, but were deliberately probing NATO defense capabilities.
“While doing this, Russian authorities obviously track the behavior of NATO and other nations’ air forces,” Martin Hurt, an expert on the Baltic region who has also worked for defense ministries in Sweden and Estonia, told Newsweek magazine. “This is, I am afraid to say, likely to continue and in the long run, NATO should consider whether the current level of military presence in the Baltic states is sufficient.”
Hurt also sounded a dire warning, saying that the Russian military exercises could easily be transitioned into a new and aggressive military operation by Putin, who may want to stage a repeat elsewhere of Russia’s annexation of Crimea early last year.
On Wednesday, the day after the NATO duel with 11 Russian jets, Putin appeared in Moscow’s Red Square as part of a large event celebrating the Russian takeover of Crimea, which Putin calls a “reunification”of Crimea with Russia.
A NATO spokesperson, Viktorija Cieminyte, said that by flying invisibly to radar and refusing to communicate with air traffic controllers on the ground, the 11 Russian jets could have caused a disaster with civil aviation traffic.
[Image: Norwegian Armed Forces]