For the third time in six days, Typhoon aircraft from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby have been scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft.
The Ministry of Defence say that two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers approached the UK Flight Information Region (FIR), north of the Scottish coast before flying down the west coast of Ireland.
These scrambles have been caused by the Russian aircraft entering the UK FIR, the UK’s controlled zone of international airspace. Monitoring this zone ensures the safe passage for all other aircraft, including civilian transatlantic airliners that are under UK civilian air traffic control.
The Russian aircraft were monitored throughout their flight by the National Air and Space Operations Centre at RAF High Wycombe and Air Surveillance and Control System at RAF Boulmer. Activity was coordinated closely with NATO allies, including the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem in Germany.
A RAF Voyager tanker aircraft from RAF Brize Norton was also launched to provide air-to-air refuelling for the Typhoons.
Air Vice Marshal Duguid, Air Officer Commanding 11 Group said in a release:
“The interception by RAF Typhoons and other NATO fighters of the Russian bombers for the third time in a week demonstrates our continuing resolve to police, protect and defend our airspace 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”
Why does the RAF intercept aircraft outside sovereign UK airspace?
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.