The NATO military alliance says it has detected a high level of activity by the Russian air force in European skies over the past few days.
On Tuesday and Wednesday a formation of Russian jets was sighted flying in international airspace. Some of the Russian planes did not have flight detection systems switched on and did not attempt to make contact with local air traffic controllers while they were in international zones.
NATO pointed out that the Russian pilots’ actions could have posed a danger to civil aviation in the areas in question, since air traffic controllers could not detect the craft on their radars.
NATO said that its surveillance systems tracked Russian jets while NATO fighters were scrambled Tuesday to keep an eye on the Russian fleet, which included fighter jets, bombers and refueling planes.
The Finnish Air Force also scrambled jets to track Russian MiG fighters and Sukhoi superjets flying over the Gulf of Finland Tuesday, NATO said.
Defence Forces communications chief Mika Kalliomaa said that defence officials would not comment on operational flights.
“We report airspace incursions immediately, but this was not the case this time,” Kalliomaa added.
Seven Russian military planes detected over Gulf of Finland
According to the NATO release the Russian flights were first detected early Tuesday afternoon when seven fighter jets flew over the Gulf of Finland in the region of Kaliningrad.
The military alliance identified the planes as two MiG 31 interceptor craft, two Sukhoi 34 fighter bombers, two Sukhoi 24 attack air planes and one Sukhoi 27 fighter jet.
When the aircraft were detected, air force jets from Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Germany were immediately scrambled to investigate.
On Wednesday morning eight other Russian planes were sighted flying south parallel to the Norwegian coast. Four of the fleet were Tupolev 95 strategic bombers and four Ilyshin II 78 refueling tankers.
Once over the Atlantic six of the planes turned back, but two of the bombers maintained their course until they reached Portugal. The planes’ pilots did not contact air traffic controllers nor did they file their flight plans. They were not using on-board transponders, which help air traffic controllers detect and track aircraft.
On Wednesday afternoon two Tupolev 95 and two Sukhoi 27 aircraft were also detected over the Black Sea. The Turkish air force scrambled planes to intercept and identify the planes on that occasion.
Later on that afternoon Portuguese F-16 fighters took to the skies to intercept what appeared to be the same seven Russian aircraft identified on Tuesday. This time they were detected flying over the Baltic.
Intercepts routine but increasing
NATO said that intercepts are standard practice when an unidentified aircraft enters the airspace of member countries. The military alliance said that the level of Russian aerial activity appears to have increased significantly in recent times.
NATO said that so far this year it has tracked Russian aerial activity on more than 100 occasions – this represents three times the number of intercepts recorded last year.
This story has been edited to correct a geographical error in the location of the Russian planes. They were flying parallel to the Norwegian coast, and not as originally stated over the Baltic sea.