A pair of Russian bombers capable of delivering nuclear bombs were spotted flying toward British airspace on Thursday, their intentions unknown — until the Royal Air Force scrambled Typhoon fighter jets from its air base in Lossiemouth, Scotland. The RAF jets cut off the Russian “Bear” bombers and escorted them out of the area.
The intercept comes just two days after British RAF Typhoons stationed with the NATO Baltic Policing contingent were forced to scramble over the Baltic Sea to make sure that a Russian spy plane kept clear of Estonia, a former Soviet republic that has been a NATO ally for the past 11 years.
The British defense ministry said that the seemingly ominous flights by Russian aircraft have been so frequent that they are almost routine, and that the two Tupolev Tu-95 bombers — a Soviet-era aircraft known informally as “The Russian Bear” — were never considered a serious threat to Britain.
“RAF Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighter aircraft were launched today from RAF Lossiemouth after unidentified aircraft were tracked flying towards U.K. airspace,” the RAF said in a statement. “The aircraft were identified as Russian Bear aircraft which were escorted by the RAF Typhoon fighters until they were out of the U.K. area of interest. At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into U.K. sovereign airspace.”
The Russian bombers were picked up north of Scotland and headed straight for British airspace, but never actually exited international territory.
According to BBC defense correspondent Jonathan Beale, the RAF has become “pretty used to this by now.”
“The worry is when these Russian bombers come, there’s no signal,” the military expert said. “They don’t have their transponder, they are not ‘squawking.’ So in other words, only military radar pick them up.”
In April, RAF fighters intercepted an earlier pair of Russian “Bear” bombers, one of which was determined to be carrying a nuclear weapon at the time — but British officials said that the nuke was not armed.
“They are testing our defenses and they are engaging in a game of chicken. That’s very dangerous,” said former top British defense official Lord Stirrup. “We are seeing the possibility of mid-air collision between Russian aircraft and civilian aircraft increasing.”
The turbo-prop powered Tu-95 bomber (pictured above) first became known to Western countries in 1956 and, at the time, was considered to be on the cutting edge of military aviation. Aviation experts are amazed that the plane remains a key component of the Russian Air Force, a force which now includes futuristic supersonic fighter jets, nearly 60 years later.
[Image: Sergey Krivchikov/Wikimedia Commons]