Russia ramps up air activities over Europe

NATO encountered and followed four groups of Russian military aircraft flying conspicuous military manoeuvers in European airspace over the Baltic Sea, North Sea/Atlantic Ocean, and Black Sea on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, reported the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE). This flurry of Russian fighter squad activity represents an extraordinary level of air drills compared to what NATO jets had previously scrambled to intercept this year.

 

Eight Russian Aircraft over North Sea / Atlantic Ocean on 29 October 2014

In this incident early overnight to Wednesday, a formation of four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft flew from mainland Russia over the Norwegian Sea in international airspace, where Norwegian F-16s intercepted them. Six of the Russian aircraft then turned back to the north-east towards Russia, while two Tu-95 Bear H bombers continued south-west, parallel to the Norwegian coast, heading to the south-west. The Russian aircraft continued over the North Sea, and Typhoon fighters from the United Kingdom were scrambled in response. 

Then while over the Atlantic Ocean west of Portugal, the two Russian aircraft were intercepted and identified by F-16s from the Portuguese Air Force. The Russian aircraft turned back heading north-east, flying to the west of the United Kingdom. NATO aircraft from the United Kingdom and Norway were standing by and NATO assets on the ground and in the air tracked the Russian aircraft throughout. By late afternoon, the two Tu-95 bombers appeared to be headed back to Russia, but remained airborne.

The bomber and tanker aircraft from Russia did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and they were not using on-board transponders. This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.

Four Russian Aircraft over Black Sea on 29 October 2014

On Wednesday afternoon, NATO radars detected and tracked four Russian aircraft flying over the Black Sea in international air space, including 2 Tu-95 Bear-H bombers and 2 Su-27 Flanker fighter jets.  Fighters from the Turkish Air Force intercepted the Russian aircraft while NATO kept tracking them in international airspace.

Multiple Russian Aircraft over Baltic Sea on 29 October 2014

As reported Wednesday, NATO radars caught and followed a number of Russian aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea in international airspace, including 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets.  Portuguese F-16 Fighters assigned to the Baltic Air Policing (BAP) Mission were scrambled in response and the Russian aircraft returned to Russian airspace.

Seven Russian Fighter Jets also Intercepted on 28 October 2014

Prior to that on Tuesday afternoon, NATO radars saw and tracked seven Russian combat aircraft flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.  The aircraft included 2x MiG-31 Foxhound, 2x Su-34 Fullback, 1x Su-27 Flanker and 2x Su-24 Fencer jets.

The Russian aircraft were flying in the Gulf of Finland and were intercepted by German Typhoon fighter jets from NATO’s BAP Mission in order to identify the aircraft and protect Allied air space.  The Russian aircraft continued into the Baltic Sea and were subsequently intercepted by Allied fighters from Denmark as well as fighters from Finland and Sweden, which are not members of NATO.  The Russian fighters continued to the Kaliningrad Oblast.  In this incident, the Russian planes had filed flight plans with air traffic control authorities, were using transponders, however did not maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control.

NATO jets were on standby throughout the duration of both Russian flights and Russian aircraft were continually tracked using Allied assets on the ground and in the air.  NATO has conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft in 2014 to date, which is about three times more than were conducted in 2013.

Scrambles and intercepts are standard procedure when an unknown aircraft approaches NATO airspace.  However, such flights pose a potential risk to civil aviation given that the Russian military often do not file flight plans, or use their on-board transponders. This means civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft nor ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.

NATO Allies protect their airspace on a 24/7 basis. Allied air defence efforts are focused on stopping unauthorised incursions into NATO airspace and on preventing acts of airborne terrorism.

Meanwhile, in addition to the news of Russian air force activity, Latvia's National Armed Forces (NBS) tweeted Thursday morning that two Russian navy ships were being monitored just 7 nautical miles from Latvia's maritime Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) waters. 

 

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