Quick Reaction Alert aircraft were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth yesterday to intercept two supersonic Russian bombers.
Squadron Leader Jim Calvert of II(AC) Squadron said:
“Given the Royal Air Force’s enduring commitment to secure the UK’s skies, yesterday’s sortie once again proved Typhoon’s capability to successfully scramble and intercept Russian long-range aviation.
Protecting our skies is especially poignant in this 75th anniversary year of the Battle of Britain. Working together with ground-based radar and air-to-air refuelling aircraft today’s RAF continues to come together as a team to protect our country.”
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.
In April this 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.
The only other operator of the type was the Ukrainian Air Force when it inherited 19 Tu-160s from the former Soviet Union, and subsequently handed over eight Tu-160s to Russia as exchange for debt relief in 1999; the remainder were scrapped under the Nunn–Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction agreement led by the US.
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.