LONDON — NATO warned of an "unusual" uptick in Russian military aircraft flying sorties in European airspace this week, saying its fighters had scrambled to intercept four groups of fighters and bombers in just a 24-hour period. "These sizable Russian flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace," NATO said in a statement on Wednesday.
NATO added that it has conducted more than 100 intercepts of Russian aircraft so far this year —"about three times more" than it conducted in 2013. While the alliance acknowledged that scrambling jets to intercept unknown aircraft approaching NATO airspace is "standard procedure," it noted the potential risk to civilian air traffic posed by Russian military jets which often fail to file flight plans or use on-board transponders.
The alliance said that Norwegian F-16s were scrambled Wednesday after its radar spotted eight Russian aircraft flying in formation over the North Sea. The Norwegian jets intercepted the four Tu-95 Bear H strategic bombers and four II-78 tanker aircraft, which had flown from mainland Russia. Six of those Russian aircraft turned back toward Russia, but two continued over the North Sea — prompting the U.K. to scramble Typhoon fighter jets in response and later an intercept from Portugal's air force. That afternoon, NATO radars detected two bombers and two fighter jets in international airspace flying over the Black Sea. Turkish Air Force jets intercepted those aircraft, while Portuguese F-16s were scramble in response to "a number" of Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea.
On Tuesday, seven Russian combat aircraft were detected in international airspace over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday and intercepted by German Typhoon jets "in order to identify the aircraft and protect allied airspace," NATO said. When the combat craft continued on, allied fighters from Denmark — along with non-NATO members Finland and Sweden — intercepted the Russian planes.
- Cassandra Vinograd