2 years ago I wrote a blog titled Intercepting the Bear, that has gone on to be one of my most popular. In it I detailed how the Soviet Union and later Russia sent aircraft to probe and spy on the air defences of NATO nations and the US Pacific naval fleet. The main aircraft used on many of these long-range surveillance missions is the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear. A huge 4 engine turbo-prop aircraft that has been in use since 1952. These types of missions were a regular occurrence throughout the Cold War but stopped abruptly with the fall of communism and the Soviet Union in 1991. Then with the rising strength of Russia the flights started again in the 2000’s. It was not until this month though, with tensions on the Ukraine and Russian border that another one of these missions (which occur regularly) caught the world’s attention.
The Bear is Back!
2 Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear H aircraft were detected approaching the NATO Air Policing Area north of Scotland to conduct a surveillance mission on April 23rd, 2014. Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon fighters from Number 6 Squadron were scrambled from RAF Leuchars to intercept the Bears and keep them out of UK airspace.
The Typhoons are part of the RAF Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert force. The pilots of the Typhoons took the following photos whilst escorting the Russians out of the area. They then handed them over to F-16’s flown by the Danish Air Force to escort further north (F-16’s from the Netherlands Air Force were also scrambled to intercept the Tu-95’s). It should be said the Russians remained in international airspace throughout this process.
The UK Ministry of Defence quoted RAF Number 6 Squadron Typhoon pilot Flight Lieutenant Gary Montgomery as saying:
“Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert stands ready to scramble at a moments notice, 24/7, all year long, to maintain the integrity of UK airspace.”
“Intercepting Russian Bear aircraft is a routine occurrence for us, it’s what we do to maintain UK Sovereign airspace.”
While these Russian incursions are nothing new, this flight was a little unusual. Yes it happened while political tensions run high in Europe, but the unique thing about this incursion is that there are 2 Bears together, If you look at the vast collection of photos I put together in my Intercepting the Bear blog these types of intercepts are nearly always of single aircraft. The Russians never fail to surprise!
Once the Bears left Danish airspace the RAF Typhoons (who had been refueled by an RAF Voyager tanker) continued to monitor their movements until they were last seen heading north into Norwegian airspace and back to their base on the Kola Peninsula in northern Russia (the Norwegian Air Force decided against intercepting them as they had already been identified). For over 60 years now the Tupolev Tu-95 Bear has been a threat and just keeps on going on! No doubt the Russian Bear will return again soon!