RAF Typhoon jets were scrambled to meet two Russian Tu-160 bombers off the coast of the Shetland Islands, a northern island archipelago off mainland Scotland.
The Typhoon jets were joined off Scotland by a Voyager tanker from RAF Brize Norton in what can only be described as a routine event for both air forces.
A Royal Air Force spokesman said:
“We can confirm that quick reaction alert Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby scrambled to monitor two Blackjack bombers while they were in the UK area of interest.
At no point did the Russian aircraft enter UK territorial airspace.”
It is understood that the Russian aircraft flew around the top of Scotland before passing along the west coast of Ireland and France and then turned around near the Spanish coast.
The Russian Ministry of Defence said in a statement:
“At some stages of the flight the Tu-160s were accompanied by foreign aircraft, including pilots of the British air force, for whom escorting Russian aircraft and naval vessels is for some reason always considered an exceptional event and the main news of the day.
All flights by the Russian air force are carried out strictly in accordance with international rules on the use of neutral airspace and seas, and without violating the borders of other countries.”
The aircraft, understood to be Tu-160’s, are often referred to as ‘Blackjack’ in the west and are supersonic strategic bombers. The Blackjack is also the world’s largest combat aircraft and has the heaviest take off weight of any military aircraft besides transports.
The aircraft can carry 40,000 kg (88,185 lb) of weaponry including nuclear missiles. Sightings of the Tu-160 are incredibly rare as there only 5 combat capable examples in service.
— Armée de l’air (@Armee_de_lair) February 9, 2017
In April last year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying that Russia was resuming production of the Tu-160. Russian news agency TASS Russia reported that the Russian Air Force will purchase at least 50 new-build Tu-160s and that production of the aircraft will restart at the Kazan aviation plant.
According to the MoD, the Typhoon pilots visually identified the two Russian aircraft and escorted them whilst in the UK area of interest but crucially, not in British airspace. It is understood that air to air refuelling support was provided by a Voyager aircraft from RAF Brize Norton.