RAF Typhoons had to be scrambled this week to intercept two unidentified military aircraft, which turned out to be Russian TU-95 ‘Bear’ strategic bombers on a reconnaissance run.
Russia using it’s strategic bomber force to ‘probe’ the airspace of NATO members to test reaction times and response strength was a regular feature of the Cold War, which necessitated a dense network of fast jet squadrons based around the world to intercept, and escort away the Russian craft. They all but ceased with the collapse of the Soviet Union, but acting as a convenient barometer of a resurgent Russia they have resumed in recent years.
This is the third time the UK’s northern Quick Reaction Alert squadron has been scrambled to intercept Russian bombers, and the first time from their new home at RAF LOSSIEMOUTH, as their former home at the better known RAF LEUCHARS is now in the process of being transformed into an army base. According to the Daily Express newspaper, Russia has also trespassed in US airspace in the same way sixteen times this year.
The Russians do not only test our response time by air, but also by sea. Last Christmas, the Russian Navy parked an Aircraft Carrier and associated battlegroup in the Firth of Moray and waited, unmolested for 24 hours within easy striking distance of Scottish city Inverness while a British destroyer was directed from Portsmouth to escort it away.
The same happened in 2011 when a Russian group of eight warships, including an aircraft carrier and three major surface warships moored in the Firth of Moray.
The Royal Navy no longer has an active aircraft carrier component while the two new Queen Elizabeth class carriers are commissioned and worked up. When complete they will be the largest ships ever built for the Royal Navy, and some of the largest aircraft carriers in the world. The first air-wings are expected to be operational in 2020.