The BBC reports that the RAF scrambled fighters earlier today, in reaction to the latest flight by Russian TU-95 Bear bombers over the North Atlantic.
British defense spokesman tell the BBC that eight of the Russian heavy bombers--flying in loose formations of four pairs, were initially intercepted by Norwegian F-16s. Later, the RAF launched four of its Tornado F3s to continue the intercept, as the Bears headed south into the "NATO zone." The British jets discontinued their mission when the TU-95s turned north and headed home. An RAF AWACS and VC-10 tanker supported the operation.
Based on reported numbers, today's Bear mission over the North Atlantic sounds like one of the largest since the Cold War. And it comes at the end of a busy summer for Moscow's strategic bomber force, when Bears and TU-160 Blackjacks have flown high-profile missions against Norway, the United Kingdom and Iceland. In the Pacific, other TU-95s have recently approached Alaska and Guam, demonstrating Russia's intent to revive it's long-range bomber forces.
Today's mission increases the likelihood that Russian bombers will stage a "run" against the U.S. east coast later this year. As we've noted in the past, that particular profile (which was flown periodically during the Cold War era) is considered highly provocative by both the United States and Russia. But it's the type of mission that Vladimir Putin seems quite willing to stage, reinforcing his contention that Russia's military might has "returned."