From Times Online
August 21, 2007
RAF jets scrambled to intercept Russian bomber
Michael Evans, Defence Editor of The Times
The RAF has been forced to scramble its latest combat aircraft to head off two Russian strategic bombers from British airspace.
Russia added to current diplomatic tensions with Britain by sending the two long-range Bear bombers towards British airspace in what is being seen as a deliberate muscle-flexing exercise by Moscow.
It was the first time Russian bombers had threatened to penetrate British airspace since outspoken remarks by President Vladimir Putin last week when he said he had ordered his bomber force to go back on long-range patrols around the world.
The arrival of two Russian Bear-H bombers over the North Atlantic forced the RAF to scramble its Typhoon/Eurofighter for the first time since becoming operational.
The Russian leader made his comment during a military exercise with the Chinese in the Ural Mountains at the weekend. He said he was ending a 15-year suspension of bomber flights, and announced that 14 strategic aircraft had taken to the air from seven airfields across Russia.
The announcement caused irritation in the West because it seemed to reflect President Putin’s growing antipathy towards his Western partners and his determination to show the world that Moscow was once again a power to be reckoned with; Russia’s strategic bombers may not present a real military threat but their presence once again in the skies is intended to underline Mr Putin’s new tough stance, illustrated somewhat graphically by published pictures of him fishing topless.
However, it was not the first time that Britain had been earmarked for Russian bomber flights. The Russians started sending long-range bombers towards British airspace earlier this year to snoop on a maritime exercise, recalling the Cold War days when Soviet strategic aircraft regularly tested Britain’s air defence responses.
The first bombers, two Bears, appeared off Scotland in May, and RAF Tornado F3s were scrambled to escort them away from British airspace. Since then, there have been one or two other incidents when Bears have approached the UK and have had to be turned away.
The general view was that Britain had been selected for Moscow’s renewed bomber campaign because of the existing tensions with President Putin over the murder in London of Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian intelligence officer who was poisoned with polonium-210.
Andrei Lugovoy, also a former Russian intelligence officer with the FSB, successor of the KGB, was accused by the British authorities of murdering Mr Litvinenko, but Moscow has refused Britain’s request for his extradition. Tit-for-tat expulsions of diplomats serving in London and Moscow followed Russia’s extradition decision; and last week Russian authorities named a British diplomat they claimed had been caught spying.
The latest Bear incident took place on Friday. As two of the strategic bombers headed for Britain, Typhoons from Number XI Squadron, part of a “quick reaction alert” unit based at RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire, were scrambled.
The Typhoons began providing air defence cover of the United Kingdom on June 29, its first operational mission since entering service with the RAF. The Ministry of Defence released pictures of the mid-air meeting this evening.
Defence sources said that the decision was taken to intercept the Bear bombers because they were clearly heading for British airspace. In Friday’s incident, the Typhoons shadowed the Russian Bears until they turned away.
The Typhoon F2s share the role of guarding Britain’s airspace with the older Tornado F3s, which are based at RAF Leeming in Yorkshire and RAF Leuchars in Fife.