The Typhoons, flown by pilots from RAF Lossiemouth, launched from Leuchars Station, in Fife where they are temporarily deployed while runway resurfacing takes place at RAF Lossiemouth.

This time they intercepted Russian military aircraft operating over the North Sea near UK airspace.

They were assisted by an RAF Voyager from RAF Brize Norton which provided air to air refuelling for the Typhoons, and a NATO E-3A Sentry Airborne Early Warning aircraft that was re-tasked from a training mission nearby.

This also happened earlier this month on two occasions.

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.”

All airspace around the world is divided into Flight Information Regions (FIRs). Each FIR is managed by a controlling authority (in this case the UK) that has responsibility for ensuring that air traffic services are provided to the aircraft flying within it. UK Airspace is divided into three FIRs; London, Scottish and Shanwick Oceanic.

“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.”

A Typhoon is pictured intercepting a Russian aircraft in the UK FIR.

“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.

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Well Typhoons are still flying up here even though lossies runways closed, typhoons went screaming off over the town with full afterburners yesterday.


On another note, russia must have a crazy FIR! They have so much airspace it’s hard to think they could protect it all.

Daniele Mandelli

Yes. In the Cold War their Voyska PVO ( their air defence arm ) was concentrated opposite NATO, on their southern and eastern borders opposite China, in the Urals and areas of central Siberia, and on the Kola Peninsula. And of course primarily around the Moscow “Bastion”

The vast northern areas of Russia had very little. The odd airfield here and there, like on Novoya Zemla. Some of their interceptors were very long ranged, like the Fiddler.

I imagine there is even less now.


Yeah, it must take some looking after and work, I wouldn’t be surprised the the ruskies are half arseing it.

Daniele Mandelli

Well, there’s nothing but the North Pole and Arctic up there, no bordering nations to keep a watch on. There will be the usual ATC services and radar for transiting airliners, and air defence radar, as it is obvious that across the pole is the main inbound route for USAF bombers coming direct from North America, but unless the USAF is still probing around with recc aircraft and flying feints towards Russia from the North and Alaska what is the need for lots of air defences? Too wide an area. They defend their industrial centres, like Norilsk, in the far… Read more »


But wasn’t the North Pole route (well on the American side) was well protected and manned as that was the most likely place an Atack would come from, bomber or balistic, and same would go for Russia wouldn’t it.

Daniele Mandelli

I don’t believe so Cam. It is hard to find detail on exact dispositions of their air defence, and I’ve tried for years, which is why I can offer this small amount of knowledge, on the Russian side at least. I’m not knowledgeable on US Air Defence arrangements. I know NORAD obviously has BMEWS and had the DEW Line in northern Canada. The threat from Soviet bomber aviation was always greatly exaggerated in my view. As for the Soviet side, the answer is in your first point about the sheer size of Russia. The area is so great they defended… Read more »


The Bears and Blackjacks must be well maintained as they do like putting the miles on them. Keeps the RAF in people’s minds so not all bad from our point of view. I just wish they used their transponders so as not to endanger air traffic.


RobW, I think it’s a godsend that Russia sends airplanes and warships our way, I have no doubt atall we would have even less platforms of all kinds if they became an Allie and stopped those missions. This way it keeps eyes on our high end much needed platforms. We still lack depth in fighter jets! Even EGYPT has double our fast jet numbers! They have al it’s 400 I believe, with 220 being upgraded f16 and then they have mirage 2000 jets and now getting rafael, and they have Apaches and russian atack helicopters that more than double our… Read more »

Rob Emms

But they are not known for their expertise or professionalism!!

Rob Emms

Referring to Egypt here.

Daniele Mandelli

Or their NHS, or their benefits bill, or their soft power, oversees aid, or the myriad other costs of a modern developed nation such as the UK.

How many of the 400 jets actually fly? What is their training hours? Or are they lined up for show?