RAF intercepts 21 Russian aircraft near NATO airspace during Exercise Air Defender

UK MOD Crown copyright

The last three weeks have proven to be especially busy for the United Kingdom’s Royal Air Force (RAF) with its Typhoon fighter jets intercepting 21 Russian aircraft near NATO airspace in the last 21 days.    

Stationed in Estonia, the RAF Typhoons were forced to act when the Russian aircraft failed to communicate with air traffic agencies, posing a flight safety hazard. 

The news was reported by the UK’s Ministry of Defense on June 25, 2023, the day after the largest NATO military drill, Exercise Air Defender, came to an end. The RAF played a crucial role in the two-week exercise, contributing its Typhoon jets and deploying additional F-35, Voyager, and A-400M aircraft from the UK. 

The intercepted aircraft included fighter jets (Su-27M Flanker B, Su-30SM Flanker H), transport aircraft (Tu-134 Crusty, An-72 Coaler, An-12 Cub), intelligence collection aircraft (Il-20 Coot A), and long-range bombers (Tu-22M Backfire).  

In May 2023, six Russian warplanes were intercepted by the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) during military drills off the coast of Alaska. 

Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters have been operating out of Amari Air Base in Estonia since March 2023. The squadron is part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission and is backed by 100 RAF staff from the 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW).  

The main aim of the RAF Typhoons is to conduct Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) activities for air forces. This often means that aircraft are ready to take off within a few minutes in response to a potential or actual threat. 

“The number of recent intercepts that we have conducted from Amari Airbase in Estonia demonstrates the importance that our mission serves here in the Baltics,” 140 EAW Commanding Officer Wing Commander Scott Maccoll said in a statement. 

“Throughout our NATO Air Policing Mission, 140 EAW has acted decisively and legitimately to uphold international law, protect democratic freedoms, and ensure the safety of all aircraft transiting throughout the airspace of member states,” Maccoll continued.  

The RAF will continue its NATO Baltic Air Policing mission until August 2023, when the Spanish Air Force is set to take over the Estonian base. 

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