Ahead of the “election” held by separatists in Eastern Ukraine on Sunday, Russia increased military air activity in European airspace, reflective of a 300 percent increase over 2013 in intercepts of Russian aircraft.
NATO detected four separate groups of aircraft exercising over the Baltics, the North Sea, and the Atlantic Ocean Oct. 28 and 29, according to a NATO report.
“Clearly, they pose the potential risk of escalation. They also, quite frankly, could pose just a potential risk to civil aviation just in the sheer number of and size of and scope of these flights. So, they’re not exactly helpful.”
On Oct. 28, NATO tracked seven Russian combat aircraft flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. The aircraft were detected at approximately 2:30 p.m. and included two MiG-31 Foxhound, two Su-34 Fullback, one Su-27 Flanker and two Su-24 Fencer fighter and strike aircraft, according to the report from SHAPE Public Affairs.
The Russian aircraft, flying over the Gulf of Finland, were intercepted by German Typhoon fighters from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission. The Russian aircraft continued into the Baltic Sea and were subsequently intercepted and then handed off by Allied fighters from Denmark, Finland, and Sweden, which are not members of NATO. The Russian fighters continued to the Kaliningrad Oblast. The Russian aircraft in this incident had filed a flight plan with air traffic control authorities and were using transponders, but did not maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control.
Early the next morning, at approximately 3:00 a.m. CET on Oct. 29, NATO radars detected and tracked eight Russian aircraft flying in formation over the North Sea. Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 aircraft scrambled and intercepted four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircraft. The formation flew from mainland Russia over the Norwegian Sea in international airspace. While six of the Russian aircraft turned back to the north-east toward Russia, two of the Bear H bombers continued south-west, parallel to the Norwegian coast, continuing over the North Sea. Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters scrambled in response. Farther southwest, over the Atlantic Ocean off Portugal, the two Russian aircraft were intercepted and identified by F-16s from the Portuguese air force. The Russian aircraft turned back toward the northeast, once again intercepted by aircraft from the United Kingdom and Norway.
The Russian aircraft failed to file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and were not using on-board transponders, according to the release. This meant civilian air traffic control would not be able to positively detect or identify the aircraft, which posed a risk to civil air traffic.