A total of 77 Russian military aircraft, mainly strategic bombers, were identified by Norwegian fighters under NATO command.
Additional 40 aircraft were registered, but not identified by Norwegian fighters, making the total numbers of Russian westbound military flights in the north approximately 120. The information is provided to BarentsObserver by the Norwegian Operational Command Head Quarters in Bodø, northern-Norway.
The numbers of identified Russian bombers are less than in 2008, when NATO fighters scrambled 32 times to identify 87 Russian bombers outside Norwegian territory, as reported by BarentsObserver last January.
Russian military aircrafts have only one route to show-off outside the airspace of western-European countries; via the Barents Sea north of Norway’s North Cape.
Russian strategic bombers of the Tu-95 and Tu-160 are based at the Engels air base in Saratov south of Moscow. Northbound flights first cross the European part of Russia and out in the Barents Sea, before they turn south along the coast of Norway and often as far south as the North Sea. Such flights can last for 10 to 15 hours and often includes refueling in the air.
Sometimes, the northbound bombers fly out over the Barents Sea and turn around before Norwegian F-16’s are airborne and therefore can’t identify them. Or, the bombers continue from the Barents Sea airspace towards the High Arctic and therefore are not in the vicinity of Norwegian airspace.
Russia resumed long-range patrols around the Barents Region coast in 2007 after an extended layoff that followed the end of the Cold War. In 2007, NATO fighter jets scrambled 47 times and identified 88 strategic Russian bombers.
The bombers patrol seems to continue on regular basis also this year. Last week, F-16’s from Bodø Main Air Station were again scrambled to identify two Russian Tu-95s as reported by BarentsObserver.
While the Norwegian Operational Command Head Quarters are open with information regarding registered Russian strategic planes, the military officials are more silent about the Russian submarine patrols outside Norwegian territorial waters.
- Russian submarines activities in the Barents Sea and the north Atlantic have not decreased, but increased slightly over the last years, but we don’t want to be more specific about this, says John Espen Lien, press-spokesman at the Operational Command Head Quarters in Bodø.
A year ago BarentsObserver reported, with reference to an American report, that there were only seven patrols with Russian strategic submarines of the Delta-IV class in 2008. There is still no public information about the numbers of strategic submarine patrols in 2009, but Delta-IV submarines from Russia’s Northern fleet were by several occasions sailing under the Arctic ice-cap, like when one Delta-IV class submarine broke through the ice and launched a test-missile as reported by BarentsObserver.
Russia plans to resume testing of the submarine-launched ballistic missile Bulava this summer. The country’s two newest strategic nuclear-powered submarines will start trials as soon as the ice conditions in the White Sea will allow.
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