By Glynn Cosker
Editor, In Homeland Security
Britain scrambled some of its Typhoon fighter jets Tuesday when two Russian military aircraft veered too close to British airspace. The Ministry did not divulge the exact location of the interception, which comes just three weeks before a critical UK general election with defense policy sitting front and center.
“Royal Air Force Quick Reaction Alert Typhoon fighter aircraft were launched today, from RAF Lossiemouth after Russian aircraft were identified flying close to UK airspace,” the defense ministry reported in a statement given to CBS News. “The Russian planes were escorted by the RAF until they were out of the UK area of interest. At no time did the Russian military aircraft cross into UK sovereign airspace.”
James Nixey, head of the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, said that the English Channel is a “legitimate shipping lane” but also cautioned: “Equally, these things aren’t done by accident. Russia is trying to show it has got full spectrum capability warfare. It is not a prelude to war, but it is a reminder that Russia likes to remind us of – that it is a power to be reckoned with, not a fading power.”
The airspace incident occurred within hours of the UK’s discovery of three Russian naval vessels navigating the English Channel between the United Kingdom and France. The Royal Navy’s HMS Argyll observed the destroyer Severomorsk and two smaller ships passing through the Channel on their way back from the Mediterranean Sea.
Russia has tested other sovereign states’ patience in recent months, and Tuesday’s land and sea actions follow similar Russian excursions in recent months. In November, the Royal Navy watched a fleet of Russian navy vessels maneuver through the Strait of Dover (near England’s coastline) after undergoing military exercises in the North Sea.
Last month, the Swedish Air Force and NATO aircraft spotted four Russian combat aircraft operating in the dark over the Baltic Sea. Two nuclear-ready Russian Tu-22M3 bombers and two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters were flying with their transponders turned off in international airspace, according to Sweden’s Armed Forces and other sources.
The news Tuesday follows the intercept of a U.S. reconnaissance plane by a Russian fighter jet last week. The Pentagon called that incident “unsafe and unprofessional.”