RAF Typhoon fast jets have been scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft operating in international airspace near the UK.
The Typhoons launched from RAF Lossiemouth on Saturday morning and were joined by an RAF Voyager from RAF Brize Norton, which provided air to air refuelling for the Typhoons.
“Two Russian Tu-142 Bear F aircraft were intercepted. These aircraft are used in the roles of Anti-Submarine Warfare and Maritime Patrol. It is essential that their movements are carefully monitored when operating so close to UK sovereign airspace.
Russian military aircraft operating within the UK Flight Information Region can act as a hazard to other air users, especially in this case as this was busy airspace over the North Sea. Often these aircraft do not squawk, which involves transmitting a code to identify the aircraft’s intentions, position, and altitude, or talk to UK air traffic controllers, causing other civilian airliners in the area to be re-routed to prevent aircraft from flying too close.
To deter this unprofessional activity and mitigate the risks associated with Russian military aircraft flying in this busy international airspace, RAF Typhoons shadowed the two Russian Bears and closely monitored their movements. Other NATO allies also launched their Quick Reaction Alert assets to assist in monitoring the Russian aircraft. Controllers from RAF Scampton coordinated the mission, liaising with NATO partners at the Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany.”
An RAF spokesperson said:
“The QRA crew did a fantastic job, locating aircraft that were not easy to detect very quickly. Again, the RAF has scrambled to defend the interests of the UK and NATO. It demonstrates the efficiency and resilience of our personnel, aircraft and systems.”
The Voyager tanker remained on mission to provide air-to-air refuelling for the Typhoons. If the situation develops or another potential threat emerges, the Voyager’s ability to refuel Typhoons mid-flight increases their endurance so that they can redeploy and intercept further targets.
The Royal Air Force add that the incident concluded by early afternoon, with the Typhoons returning to Lossiemouth and the Voyager returning to RAF Brize Norton.
Why does the UK intercept aircraft outside of its own airspace?
Andy Netherwood, a former Royal Air Force pilot, explained why this is done.
“A country’s sovereign airspace extends 12 miles beyond its coastline, sitting above its territorial waters. However, there are 3 main reasons why unknown or potentially hostile aircraft must be intercepted before they reach this point.”
“The first is flight safety. Whilst sovereign airspace only extends 12 miles from the coastline, countries are responsible for ensuring the safety of civil aviation, including the provision of ATC services, within areas known as Flight Information Regions or FIRs. These extend well beyond the 12-mile limit. Russian long range aviation often transits the London and Scottish FIRs without filing a flight plan, talking to ATC or ‘squawking’ (operating their transponders). This makes them effectively invisible to civilian ATC and is very dangerous as airliners are also flying through this airspace. By shadowing Russian aircraft, the intercepting aircraft can show ATC where they are, allowing controllers to move airliners safely out of the way.
The second reason is because of the speed at which aircraft travel. An aircraft flying at 600 knots will travel 12 miles in little over a minute. Waiting until an unknown or hostile aircraft has entered sovereign airspace before intercepting is too late. It leaves insufficient time to safely carry out the intercept, visually identify the aircraft, provide all the required information back to decision-makers, and carry out any necessary action. Russian aircraft will normally be intercepted by the Norwegian Air Force and then handed over to RAF aircraft ensuring they are continually shadowed.”
“The final reason is to demonstrate capability and intent. One of the reasons Russia carries out these exercises is to test NATO and the UK. A failure to intercept would be interpreted as weakness and encourage further probing.”
For more on why the RAF intercept aircraft around the UK, you can read the full piece.