The British Royal Air Force (RAF) has intercepted Russian fighter jets as they approached UK air space for the second time this week.
On Friday RAF Typhoon fighters were scrambled from Lossiemouth in Scotland to escort Russian aircraft away from Britain’s skies.
A day earlier, the UK summoned Russia’s ambassador to explain why two Russian “Bear” long-range bombers had flown over the English channel on Wednesday, forcing British authorities to reroute civil aircraft.
Russian aircraft have previously flown close to Scotland, so Friday’s incident is not unusual, but flying so close to the south coast on Wednesday marked “a significant escalation” in the Russian manoeuvers, a British government source told Reuters.
In December 2014, the Times of India reported that a Russian military aircraft turned off its transponders to make it invisible to commercial radar, and nearly collided with a passenger jet over Sweden.
Swedish fighter jets later identified the mystery aircraft as a Russian intelligence plane.
Last August, Finland said its fighter jets were ready to intercept foreign aircraft after Russian jets repeatedly violated its airspace.
During 2014 more than 100 Russian aircraft were intercepted over the North Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Atlantic Ocean by Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Turkey as well as NATO-allied Portuguese and German fighters from the Baltic Air Policing Mission.
NATO described an October 2014 incident “in which a Russian IL-20 (intelligence collection aircraft) took off from Kaliningrad and headed over the Baltic Sea towards Denmark.
“The Russian aircraft was first intercepted by Danish F-16’s and as the IL-20 headed further north it was intercepted by fighters from Sweden. The Russian aircraft headed south again and Portuguese F-16’s were scrambled. At 12.53 p.m. CET the IL-20 approached Estonian airspace from the northeast. The Russian aircraft entered Estonian airspace near the island of Saaremaa for a period of less than one minute, which represented an incursion of about 600 meters into NATO airspace.”
NATO explained that Russian military aircraft often do not use their on-board transponders, and that poses a potential risk to civil aviation.
In November, the European Leadership Network published details of 39 close military encounters since March 2014.
The ELN noted “violations of national airspace, emergency scrambles,
narrowly avoided mid-air collisions, close encounters at sea, and other dangerous actions happening on a regular basis over a very wide geographical area.”
The majority of incidents have taken place over the Baltic Sea, however the ELN said there have been “near misses” in the Black Sea and along the US and Canadian borders.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in December he was concerned by “the extremely aggressive” probing of Britain’s airspace by Russian military aircraft after a spate of interceptions off the Scottish coast.
Hammond, a former defence minister, had previously said the sharp increase in such activity in recent years was because of a Kremlin military overhaul that had been overlooked by many.
The British government is generally unfazed by such flights, viewing them as symbolic shows of force by a resurgent Russia meant to remind the world that it remains a global power.
But Wednesday’s appearance of Russian bombers in the English Channel, a busy corridor for civil aircraft, raised concerns because of the risk of a collision.
“It’s scary. Who does this kind of thing?”, the British government source asked Reuters of the English Channel incident. “Only Russia.”