Russian bombers spook NATO
AN unannounced show of force by Russia has set Britain and France on edge, with both nations scrambling fighters to observe a powerful formation of nuclear bombers over the North Sea.
NATO's interest was piqued when radar detected an unusually large group of bombers taking off from Russia's northeastern regions yesterday.
The formation included several large swing-wing supersonic bombers flying in the company of three Tu-95 propeller-powered long-range reconnaissance bombers. Several tanker aircraft accompanied them during the long flight.
The fleet was tracked passing to the north of Scandanavia and down the coast of Norway towards the North Sea and the UK.
Normally, Britain is responsible for the interception of such Russian 'probes' over the North Sea. So the appearance of French combat jets is somewhat unusual.
According to Britain's Ministry of Defence, two of the bombers branched off towards UK airspace.
"The Russian Blackjacks long-range bombers were not talking to air traffic control, making them a hazard to all other aviation," a statement said.
Colonel Cyrille Duvivier, a spokesman for the French Air Force, told Reuters several Russian planes were detected but that their actions were not hostile once intercepted.
"The usual response mechanisms were triggered: Rafale fighters took off in the late morning from the base of Saint-Dizier with a refuelling plane and positioned themselves for possible intervention," Duvivier said.
Russian state-controlled media says two Tupolev-160 'White Swan' bombers, designated by NATO as 'Blackjacks', conducted training over the Barents, Norwegian and North Seas. It added they were escorted by Mig-31 fighters.
"The duration of the flight exceeded 14 hours and the crews did midair refuelling during the mission," a Russian Ministry of Defence statement reportedly said.
All six of the Russian bombers on the mission are capable of carrying large numbers of cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. Some have the option of fitting nuclear warheads.
British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: "We will not hesitate to continually defend our skies from acts of aggression. Once again the rapid reactions of our RAF have demonstrated how vital our Armed Forces are in protecting Britain."
Britain's Minister of State for the Armed Forces, Mark Lancaster, spoke about "an ever more assertive Russia" in a speech in London in July.
He said the RAF has had to scramble jets more than 80 times over the last decade to intercept Russian military aircraft.