- 26 Russian aircraft ran ‘military manoeuvres’ in 24 hours including two Bear bombers followed by RAF fighters
- Nato steps up its defences as it says two planes near Britain did not file flight plans or contact controllers
- Alliance reported ‘unusual’ activity after intercepting 100 Russian planes in 2014 – triple the number in 2013
Nato has sounded a warning after 26 Russian bombers, tankers and fighter jets on military exercises were intercepted around Europe in just 24 hours.
Jets were scrambled by the RAF and allies in Germany, Portugal and Turkey after the ‘unusual’ spike in activity, which saw two giant Tu-95 Bear H bombers fly close to Britain yesterday.
The alliance said Russia had conducted ‘significant military manoeuvres in European airspace’ – though it then added none of the planes had strayed into any specific country’s territory.
The two Bear bombers had been part of an eight-plane formation which was first intercepted by Norwegian F-16s over at 2am yesterday.
While six of the planes returned back towards Russia, the two Bears carried on south west towards the UK where they were picked up by RAF Boulmer, Northumberland.
Chiefs the scrambled Typhoon jets from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, northern Scotland, which tracked the Bear bombers as they continued through Britain’s ‘flight information region’.
Nato said: ‘The bomber and tanker aircraft from Russia did not file flight plans or maintain radio contact with civilian air traffic control authorities and they were not using on-board transponders.
‘This poses a potential risk to civil aviation as civilian air traffic control cannot detect these aircraft or ensure there is no interference with civilian air traffic.’
The British Typhoon pilots identified the Bear bombers visually and ‘escorted’ them around the edge of British airspace, a Ministry of Defence spokesman said.
The Bears then continued towards the Atlantic to the west of Portugal, where they were intercepted by Portuguese F-16s before turning back.
They appeared to be heading back to Russia but were still airborne by 3pm.
Nato said the ‘sizeable Russian flights’ represented an ‘unusual level of air activity over European airspace.’
The interceptions were also not said to be linked to another huge sonic boom heard yesterday over the Outer Hebrides.
The blasts rattled buildings and left islanders shaken from Benbecula and Barra, a distance of more than 55 miles.
At first locals thought there had been a blast at a local quarry or military ordnance blown up at a beach – but the RAF later said it was ‘most likely a supersonic jet belonging to the RAF or US Air Force on a routine training flight’.
A spokesman added: ‘These flights take place all the time around the UK and we don’t announce them. To hear a supersonic boom is rare. However in certain climatic conditions they can be heard and this is what most likely happened in this case. It was probably us.’
Sheila MacCormick, of the Borrodale Hotel in South Uist, said: ‘The actual building shook. When we looked out there was people walking on the road – who were standing looking around to see what had happened.’