NATO planes shadow Russian bombers from Arctic to Black Sea
By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 30, 2021
STUTTGART, Germany — NATO fighter jets launched a flurry of intercepts Monday stretching from the Arctic to southern Europe as allies countered a “an unusual peak” of flights by Russian warplanes, the alliance said.
Allied aircraft conducted 10 intercepts as they shadowed Russian bombers and fighters over the North Atlantic, North Sea, Black Sea and Baltic Sea, NATO said in a statement on Tuesday.
The intercepts, which occurred in less than six hours, involved six different groups of Russian aircraft near allied airspace.
“Intercepting multiple groups of Russian aircraft demonstrates NATO forces’ readiness and capability to guard Allied skies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year,” Brig. Gen. Andrew Hansen, of NATO’s Allied Air Command at Ramstein Air Base, said in the statement.
Allied aircraft involved in those missions included warplanes from Norway, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Turkey, Italy, Romania and Bulgaria.
In the High North, Norwegian F-16s scrambled after radars detected two Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bombers, which continued to fly south over the North Sea prompting the United Kingdom and Belgium to scramble their fighters, NATO said. Later in the day, the Norwegian F-16s intercepted two Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack bombers over international waters.
Turkish, Romanian and Bulgarian fighter aircraft also tracked Russian aircraft over the Black Sea until they left the area while Italian fighter aircraft intercepted a Russian Ilyushin Il-38 maritime patrol plane over the Black Sea near the Russian military exclave of Kaliningrad, the statement said.
While allies regularly intercept Russian military aircraft, NATO has complained that the Russians often do not fly with transponders, which make them invisible to civilian radars.
The Russian planes never entered alliance airspace, and NATO said all the intercepts were conducted in a “safe and routine manner.”
On occasion, however, encounters between Russian and allied aircraft have been deemed dangerous by U.S. military officials. In August a U.S. B-52 bomber’s maneuvers over the Black Sea were restricted by two Russian fighter planes that flew within 100 feet of the long-range bomber.