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UK, France scramble fighter jets to meet 2 Russian nuclear bombers in 'act of aggression'

Alex Lockie
  • The UK and France scrambled fighter jets to respond to two Tu-160 Russian nuclear bombers that approached Scotland on Thursday.
  • The UK's Defence Minister called Russia out in strong terms, saying the flight was a "military challenge" and an "act of aggression."
  • The European jets confronted the Russian bombers in the North Sea and they changed course.
  • Russia regularly probes the airspace of other countries with nuclear-capable bombers.

The UK and France scrambled fighter jets to respond to a two Tu-160 Russian nuclear bombers that approached Scotland without responding to air control on Thursday.

The UK Ministry of Defence said the unresponsive planes presented a hazard to other aviation by not communicating.

"Russian bombers probing UK airspace is another reminder of the very serious military challenge that Russia poses us today," Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said in a statement sent to Business Insider. "We will not hesitate to continually defend our skies from acts of aggression."

Tu-160 intercept

Military flight radar trackers spotted an unusually large number of Russian nuclear bombers taking off from bases in the country's east early on Thursday and tracked them as they flew above Scandinavia and down into North Sea towards the UK.

The fleet included three Tu-160 supersonic bombers and three Tu-95 propeller driven bombers with refuelling tankers along for the long-distance haul. Williamson's statement says only two Tu-160s were involved in the interception incident.

UK and French jets flew out to greet the bombers. Business Insider observed flight radar trackers as the incident unfolded. Ultimately the Russian bombers turned away and the European jets returned home. The Russian bombers did not enter UK airspace.

Typically the UK scrambles its own fighters to respond to potential breaches of airspace, so the inclusion of French jets may suggest some abnormality in the incident.

Together the six Russian bombers represent a massive array of air power. Both bombers can carry anti-ship and nuclear missiles in large enough numbers to punch a serious hole in UK or European defences.

Russia regularly uses its bombers to probe the airspace of its neighbours and possibly gauge response time to aide in planning for potential future conflicts.