The 30-aircraft exercise comes amid a backdrop of an increasingly belligerent Russia, but is just as much a message to Whitehall as it is the Kremlin.
Whoever wins the forthcoming British general election will have the casting vote over how the rapidly diminishing pot of defence money is spent – and with only weeks to go before that process begins, the Royal Air Force (RAF) has decided to flex its wings. Reminding policy makers of the utility of strong air defence, the RAF hopes the authors of the Strategic Defence Spending review doesn’t take the red pen to its most cherished assets – the squadrons of fighter jets.
The exercise itself is a simulation based on the now regular incursions or near passes of British airspace by Russian aircraft, most commonly variants of the TU-95 ‘Bear’ bomber, but scaled up to include a large number and variety of aircraft. Eurofighter Typhoon fighters, Tornado fighter-bombers, and surveillance / early warning aircraft took place, defending the North-East of England.
In the games, RAF fighter-bombers are forced to defend themselves from attacks by thoroughbred fighters intent on bringing them down.
The Express newspaper has reported the comments of one RAF source on the exercise, who said: “Russia has certainly painted the background to these exercises, though of course they are needed in any event. I think there’s a view forward to the next SDR and the need to remind the powers that be about the prominence of air defence.
“The feeling is that, just because we haven’t had a large headline concerning Russian nuclear bombers recently doesn’t mean air defence isn’t important, and look at how seriously we’re taking it.”
In contrast, an official Ministry of Defence spokesman claimed that despite the Russian theme and election timing, the apparent motive of the exercise was pure coincidence, and this was merely the first time such exercises have been able to take place post-Afghanistan withdrawal, where many of the aircraft involved were actively deployed. Speaking to an in-house magazine, Wing Commander Andrew Coe said: “Due to our continuing commitment to operations overseas, this is the first time we have had the full spectrum of our capability operating together at the same time in a realistic, opposed, environment”.
The Royal Air Force aren’t the only airforce using the airspace over and near England for training purposes. Breitbart London reported last month on an intercepted Russian training flight taking place over the English channel, which was carrying a nuclear weapon designed to take out hiding submarines. Although the warhead was unarmed, the move was accepted as a provocative step in a recent cooling of NATO-Russian relations.