Russian bombers in the skies over Bournemouth: RAF jets scramble to intercept intrudersPosted: January 29, 2015
By Larisa Brown
British war planes were yesterday scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear missiles as they flew south of Bournemouth.
Typhoon jets on high alert were dispatched from two RAF bases and flew alongside the long-range Russian Bear aircraft until they were out of the region.
Last night experts said Vladimir Putin’s move to send planes capable of carrying cruise missiles so close to British shores could be seen as an act of aggression.
Off you go: A Russian Bear is escorted by an RAF jet during an alert in September. (File picture)
They said the manoeuvre in the English Channel could have been designed to ‘probe the RAF speed of reaction’ – raising fears that the Russians were looking for weaknesses in the British fighter force.
Within seconds of the bombers deviating from their usual flight path, the British quick reaction alert (QRA) jets were scrambled.
A defence source said the RAF always ‘maintains the highest level of readiness’, just as in the days of Battle of Britain.
The Typhoons were dispatched from RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland and RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire. They were so close to the Russian planes – roughly 1,000ft away – that they could signal to the pilots.
A QRA is launched to intercept aircraft that cannot be identified by any other means. In this case, the Russians would either not have filed a flight plan, not transmitted a recognisable surveillance radar code, or failed to talk to air traffic control.
Elizabeth Quintana, of defence think-tank the Royal United Services Institute, said: ‘This case is very unusual. Normally Russian Bears come past Norway and down the North Sea. It could have been used to probe the RAF speed of reaction south.’
In a reference to the inquiry into the poisoning of former KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko in London, she said: ‘Flying any military aircraft in or close to the sovereign airspace of another country signals displeasure or at worst aggression.’
While the bombers were in international airspace, they were deviating from a standard route.
Followed: These RAF images show the moment the aircraft were escorted by Typhoons near British airspace
A defence ministry spokesman said: ‘Typhoons were launched after Russian aircraft were identified flying close to UK airspace.
‘The Russian planes were escorted until they were out of the UK area of interest. At no time did they cross into UK airspace.’
A source added: ‘Why would you want to send Russian strategic bombers this far down? There is the Ukraine crisis and there is the Litvinenko trial but I wouldn’t like to speculate. If we knew the aircraft did have cruise missiles on it and was ready to use them, it wouldn’t last very long.’
The two Bears were escorted for about half an hour as they passed over the Channel and south of Bournemouth and Portsmouth. They then returned to their normal route, flying around Ireland and up past the tip of Scotland.
During this time it is likely the RAF will have been communicating to the Russian pilots through their radios.
In October, Typhoons intercepted another Russian Bear over the North Sea and Russian warships passed through the Channel and had to be escorted by the Navy.
Sourced by Daily Mail