It could have been the beginning of a Cold War-inspired movie -or the opening move of a preemptive Russian strike against the West.
Two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers sparked a Zulu Alert scramble forty eight hours ago, when their flight paths took them dangerously close to both British and Irish airspace.
The Russian planes (codenamed ‘Bear’ by NATO) had departed Engels, a Russian airbase on the shores of the Volga river, on ‘routine’ patrol duties.
Norwegian aircraft first shadowed the raiders over the North Sea, and shortly afterwards, NATO Combined Operations Centre in Germany ordered British Typhoon fighters to be scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Conningsby to intercept the incoming aircraft.
The ‘Bears’ flew on a southwesterly course down the Norwegian coast, then west of Ireland, and finally south of the British aisles. At this point, they turned back and returned exactly the way they came. The aircraft remained in the air for about 19 hours, and were escorted by Typhoons for about 12. The Typhoons were re-fueled in mid-air.
According to reports, the Russian aircraft came within 12 miles of Irish-controlled airspace, Shannon airport were informed, and remained on full alert during the entire operation.
Today, Minister for Defence Simon Coveney has said that the presence of the Russian bombers so close to Ireland was an ‘unacceptable situation’.
At no point did the Russian planes enter either Irish or British airspace. It is unclear what would have happened, had they done so.
NATO have reported a surge of intercepts of Russian aircraft in recent times. One hundred similar events took place in 2014 alone, three times as many as in the previous year.
The motives for this increased military activity are not yet known.