Russian bombers, fighters fly by air border

NATO's Baltic Air Police (BAP) pilots scrambled early Tuesday morning to identify four Russian military planes, this time a pair of Tupolev bombers TU-22M and the more familiar Sukhoi fighter jets SU-27, respectively, the National Armed Forces (NBS) tweeted. Later the same afternoon, another tweet reported one more scramble by BAP jets to intercept and identify another pair of SU-27 fighters.

Russian air force planes of various types fly the corridor of neutral international airspace between the Kaliningrad naval base and St.Petersburg regularly, however almost never use their transponders to identify themselves to civilian air traffic, thus prompting the sometimes daily NATO scrambling responses to identify and escort them along Latvian airspace over the Baltic Sea.

The Federation of American Scientists characterizes the Tupolev, or in NATO parlance 'Backfire' bomber as "a long-range aircraft capable of performing nuclear strike, conventional attack, antiship, and reconnaissance missions. Its low-level penetration features make it a much more survivable system than its predecessors. Carrying either bombs or AS-4/KITCHEN air-to-surface missiles, it is a versatile strike aircraft, believed to be intended for theater attack in Europe and Asia but also potentially capable of intercontinental missions against the United States. The BACKFIRE can be equipped with probes to permit inflight refueling, which would further increase its range and flexibility."

Already this year a Russian air force Ilyushin IL-78 refueler has been spotted and followed along Latvia's airspace by BAP jet pilots on four separate occasions, most recently on March 10.

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