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RAF Jets Intercept Russian Aircraft Near NATO Airspace

RAF Typhoons in Estonia scrambled to intercept a Russian Tu-134 ‘CRUSTY’ and 2x Su-27 ‘FLANKER’ Bs flying close to NATO airspace. The Russian aircraft failed to comply with international norms and did not liaise with the relevant airspace control agencies [Crown Copyright]

NATO have scrambled RAF jets six times in the last three weeks, intercepting 21 Russian aircraft near NATO airspace in the last 21 days.

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Press Release, Whitehall, 25 June 2023: Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters providing Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) aircraft for the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia have been scrambled to respond to Russian aircraft 21 times in the last 21 days.

The Typhoons, from RAF Lossiemouth-based number 1 (Fighter) Squadron, have been operating out of Ämari Air Base since March as part of the UK’s leading contribution to NATO. When the jets and crew conduct Quick Reaction Alert activity, they maintain a constant high readiness to ensure they can get airborne at a moment’s notice.

Baltic air policing is currently delivered by the RAF, based in Estonia, alongside the Portuguese and Romanian Air Forces based in Lithuania. The last three weeks have been especially busy and have resulted in the RAF intercepting 21 Russian aircraft in 21 days. These have included fighter aircraft (Su-27M FLANKER B, Su-30SM FLANKER H), VIP and other transport aircraft (Tu-134 CRUSTY, An-72 COALER, An-12 CUB), intelligence collection aircraft (Il-20 COOT A) and long-range bombers (Tu-22M BACKFIRE). The RAF Typhoons launch to monitor the Russian aircraft when they do not talk to air traffic agencies, making them a flight safety hazard.

RAF Typhoons in Estonia scrambled to intercept a Russian Tu-134 ‘CRUSTY’ and 2x Su-27 ‘FLANKER’ Bs flying close to NATO airspace. The Russian aircraft failed to comply with international norms and did not liaise with the relevant airspace control agencies [Crown Copyright]

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “These intercepts are a stark reminder of the value of collective defence and deterrence provided by NATO. The RAF has operated alongside our allies over the last three weeks to ensure both member states and our partner nations are protected, and they can be assured of our ongoing commitment to strengthening European security alongside those who share our values.”

The Typhoon Squadron is supported by 100 RAF personnel deployed as part of 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), which enables the flying activities of the squadron. While deployed to Estonia, the RAF has also taken part in a number of major exercises with NATO allies, including Exercise AIR DEFENDER, the largest NATO Air Deployment exercise since the end of the Cold War, with more than 250 aircraft and 10,000 personnel taking part from 25 nations. The RAF contribution to the exercise combined Typhoons from 140 EAW based in Estonia and 903 EAW based in Cyprus, and included F-35, Voyager and A-400M aircraft flying from the UK.

RAF Typhoons in Estonia scrambled to intercept a Russian Tu-134 ‘CRUSTY’ and 2x Su-27 ‘FLANKER’ Bs flying close to NATO airspace. The Russian aircraft failed to comply with international norms and did not liaise with the relevant airspace control agencies [Crown Copyright]

140 EAW’s Commanding Officer Wing Commander Scott Maccoll: “The number of recent intercepts that we have conducted from Ämari Airbase in Estonia demonstrates the importance that our mission serves here in the Baltics. Throughout our NATO Air Policing Mission, 140 EAW has acted decisively and legitimately to uphold international law, protect democratic freedoms, and ensure the safety of all aircraft transiting throughout the airspace of member states. Working closely with our NATO allies has also improved interoperability across the alliance and bolstered regional security on NATO’s eastern flank.”

The NATO Baltic Air Policing mission was established at Ämari base in Estonia and Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania in 2014 after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Allies who contribute to the mission deploy to the air bases in Eastern Europe on a four month rotational basis, providing protection and assurance to all NATO members as well as partner nations.

The RAF will continue to conduct NATO’s Air Policing Mission in Estonia with 1 (F) Sqn Typhoons until August, when they will hand over to the Spanish Air Force.

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Library image of an Italian F-35A Lightning II QRA interceptor stationed at Ämari on the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission [© Bob Morrison]

Editor’s Comments:

  • The Russian aircraft were flying in international airspace close to, but not inside, the airspace of NATO nations; predominantly between the Russian mainland and the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave of Russia.
  • NATO’s BALTOPS 2023 naval exercise and Exercise AIR DEFENDER 2023 have both recently taken place in the Baltic Region and it is not unreasonable for Russia to wish to deploy intelligence gathering aircraft to monitor military activities taking place relatively close to Russian waters and Russian airspace.
  • It is not entirely unreasonable for a VIP aircraft liveried with the emblem of the Russian Baltic Fleet Commander to be escorted by Russian fighter aircraft when flying through international airspace between Russian territories when the country is engaged in warfighting with one of its neighbours.
  • In our opinion, having talked to aircrews from NATO air forces despatched to monitor possibly suspicious activities close to NATO (and UK) airspace, one easy way to reduce tensions and stress levels would be for Russia to accept international norms and inform its neighbours when conducting routine air activities in international airspace in the vicinity of its neighbours; but we suspect the Commander-in-Chief possibly has a little too much going on at the moment for him to give this matter much consideration.

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