Russian bombers pose risk to civil aviation

This photo taken by a Norwegian airforce pilot outside Norwegian air space shows a Russian Tu-95 strategic bomber getting fuel from a Il-78 tanker aircraft.

The four bombers and four tanker aircraft tracked by F-16s outside Northern Norway were not using on-board transponders or maintained any radio contact with civilian air traffic authorities.

Two Norwegian F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Bodø airforce base early Wednesday morning as NATO radars detected eight Russian aircrafts flying from Russia’s Kola Peninsula and into international airspace on a southwest bound route from the Barents Sea over the Norwegian Sea. 

The aircrafts identified were four Tu-95 strategic bombers and four Il-78 tanker aircrafts.

NATO issued a statement Wednesday saying the “flights represent an unusual level of air activity over European airspace.”

Alarm bells are ringing for civilian air traffic control authorities. 

“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,” NATO says in its statement.

Two Norwegian F-16 fighter jets were scrambled from Bodø to meet the group of Russian military aircrafts.

Airspace in the Arctic, over the Barents- and Norwegian Seas is not the busiest in the world, but intercontinental passenger flights from North-America to destinations in the Middle East and Moscow are frequently using northern airspace. 

Of the eight Russian aircrafts tracked on Wednesday, six turned back over the Norwegian Sea towards the Barents Sea and back south into Russian airspace over the Kola Peninsula. The two others continued all the way south to the Atlantic Ocean outside Portuguese airspace before returning north again.

The four strategic Tu-95 bombers outside Norway and Western Europe were not the only Russian aircrafts flying on Wednesday. In the afternoon two others were flying over the Black Sea followed two Russian fighter jets.

Three times more interceptions than last year
During the afternoon, seven Russian air force jets were detected over the Baltic Sea. NATO jets were scrambled from the Baltic Air Policing Mission in response to the Russian aircrafts. It was the second day in a row that Russian fighter jets were met by NATO fighters over the Baltic. In addition, both Swedish and Finnish jets were scrambled as the Russian jets continued towards Kaliningrad.

NATO says they have conducted over 100 intercepts of Russian aircrafts in 2014 to date. That is three times more than in 2013.

Norwegian military officials are closely following Russian military aircraft activity in the north. 

Cruise missile ready to launch
In addition to the Tu-95 strategic bombers, the Norwegian air force has also seen an increasing number of Tu-22 bombers flying out of Russia’s northern areas.

Russian Tu-22 supersonic bomber with a cruise missile in launching postition outside Norwegian airspace.

Commenting on a photo taken by a Norwegian F-16 pilot showing a supersonic Tu-22 with a cruise missile in launching position, press spokesman at Norway’s Joint Command Headquarters, Lieutenant Colonel Ivar Moen says to BarentsObserver that Russian aircrafts with cruise missiles under have been registered several times lately. 

“This photo is not the first time we have seen Tu-22 bombers with visible cruise missile,” Moen says.

No nukes
The cruise missile on the photo is likely a Kh-22, a large, long-range anti-ship missile that can either have a conventional or nuclear warhead.

“We have no reason to believe that the cruise missiles have nuclear warheads,” says Ivar Moen in a phone interview with BarentsObserver.

Bulava launced from Barents Sea
In addition to showing off strategic bombers and fighter jets, Russia’s strategic forces also made a launch of a Bulava intercontinental missile from the Barents Sea on Wednesday. 

The missile was launched from the nuclear-powered submarine “Yury Dolgoryky” and was the first ever operational test launch of Bulava in line with the program of combat training.