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NATO, NORAD respond to spike in long-range Russian air patrols

13 March 2020
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A Tu-160 bomber taken from a UK RAF Eurofighter Typhoon during a spate of long-range Russian air activity over recent days. Source: Crown Copyright

Both NATO and NORAD have scrambled fighter aircraft in response to a spike in long-range Russian air activity over the North Atlantic and near Alaska over recent days.

The two organisations have reported at least four incidents between them from 7 to 11 March, all of which involved Russian Aerospace Forces (VKS) Tupolev Tu-142 'Bear' long-range maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft, Tupolev Tu-160 'Blackjack' bombers and escorting fighters and tankers flying in international airspace but close to areas of interest of member nations.

The most recent event took place on 12 March, and saw the NATO Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) in Uedem in northern Germany and at Torrejon in Spain direct Royal Norwegian Air Force (RoNAF) Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons, UK Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoons, and French Air Force Dassault Rafales to intercept and shadow a pair of Tu-160 bombers and accompanying Ilyushin Il-78 'Midas' tankers that flew through the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) gap down to the sea off the west coast of Ireland, before returning to Russia.

The day before, on 11 March, the CAOCs at Uedem and Torrejon directed NATO fighters to shadow a Russian flight of Tu-142s and their MiG-31 'Foxhound' fighter and Il-78 tanker escorts over the North and Mid-Atlantic. In this incident, RoNAF F-16s, RAF Typhoons, French Air Force Rafales, and Spanish Air Force Boeing F/A-18 Hornets were all involved.

Two days before this incident, on 9 March, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) directed US Air Force (USAF) Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptors and Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) Boeing CF-18 Hornet fighters to intercept and shadow another flight of two Russian Tu-142s and their escorts off the coast of Alaska.

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