Britain intercepts Russian bombers every week

Russian Bear British RAF tornadoBritish RAF planes intercept Russian Tu-95 Bear bombers once a week, reports populist British newspaper The Sun.

The enterprising paper filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the British Ministry of Defence which revealed that, during the seven months to January 2008, RAF interceptors were sent up to meet Russian bombers 28 times. For comparison, during the previous 6 months, RAF interceptors were scrambled just twice.

The Sun is, of course, righteously indignant at the cost to the good old British taxpayer. According to them, it costs approximately £30,000 ($60,000) per hour to keep an RAF fighter in the air. They’ve calculated that, over the past seven months, the RAF has spent more than £3.5 million ($7 million) to meet the Russian threat.

Buried mid-way through the article is the news that none of the Russian bombers have entered British airspace and, in truth, almost all of the contacts have been over the Artic or the North Sea. You would never know this from the article’s title though – “Hey you, get off of our cloud”.

Or from the over-worked ‘senior RAF source who reports exactly what Russian command want to hear:

“We have to take these bombers seriously, just in case. It runs us ragged.”

Russian bomber interceptedI’m sure the RAF are quite right to intercept Russian bombers flying near British airspace – they are after all, flying very close – but it’s indicative of the poor press Russia is getting at the moment that hysterical over-reaction is now becoming the norm.

If you want to see the impact reporting like this is having on many in the British public, take a look at the comments to The Sun article.

Oh, and two more quick thoughts before I go. I wonder how much it’s costing the Russian air force to send these bombers out? Probably not as much as the British RAF. And, finally… I wonder if the Russian Air Force would tell me how much it costs if I were to ask???

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39 Responses

  1. Xavi says:

    Isn’t more irrational the military cost of Iraq’s war? At least those clouds are closer to the motherland. Wishing people were so critic on all military expenses, so more Costa Ricas blossomed.

    PS: To see the football team supported by each commenter says it all about The Sun xD

  2. Andy says:

    It’s much harder to make out Iraq as a threat anymore.

    Russia, by (depending on who you believe) assassinating dissidents on British soil and flying up and down the North Sea has rather conveniently offered itself up as a new and slightly exotic bogeyman.

    PS – so long as they support the correct team, I will respect their views. Indeed, if Vladimir Putin were a fervent Yeovil Town supporter, political analysis would be much simpler for me…

  3. Xavi says:

    No idea if Putin supports any football team, but I’m afraid what says it all about him is his fondness for boxing without rules.

  4. Awww … come on. These are friendly Tupolevs, not nasty Heinkels.

    The Russians are only stopping by for some chatting and singing …

    There were ten Russian bombers in the air,
    There were ten Russian bombers in the air,
    There were ten Russian bombers, Ten Russian bombers,
    There were ten Russian bombers in the air,
    And the RAF from England can’t shoot then down.

    😉

  5. Andy says:

    Do you know how much an actual missile costs these days? The boys in accounting would never sanction the actual firing of a missile.

    And besides, permission to fire missiles requires that RAF pilots first fill in form WM-234.b/5M (in triplicate, naturally), sending it back to office by carrier pigeon, then waiting for formal approval to return by the same carrier pigeon.

  6. No more slingshots in the arsenal ? I am busy reading Edward Lucas’ book “The New Cold War” … and according to Ed, the entire Russian military is crappy. He must know, he writes for the Guardian. 😉

    But I guess we won’t have to worry too much … I’ve just finished reading that famous book about Gazprom, written by Those two Russian Kommersant-Journalists … according to them, the entire Russian oil and gas thing will collaps any minute. Then, the Tupolevs will be out of fuel and the RAF can save their slingshots for other targets. 😉

  7. Oooopppsss …. it’s the Economist … not the Guardian. I will have to lay off my buttler for bringing the wrong newspaper. Sorry.

  8. GER O'BRIEN says:

    I have to say guys this is just a depressing story. $12 million dollars spent on nothing really, and half the world hungry at the same time. The Brits should shoot down one of them, teach ’em a lesson.

  9. Ger, you must be joking ! As Andy pointed out correctly, almost all of the contacts have been over the Artic or the North Sea. That’s international airspace, open to all.

    What lesson is there to learn for the Russians ? That they are not entitled to fly in international airspace ? Come on …

    My neighour’s son goes in circles on his moped on the lawn of their front garden for hours already. It’s loud and boring, but there’s nothing I can do about it. From time to time he rides his moped up and down the public street in front of my house, that’s loud and boring as well. There’s nothing I could do against that either.

    Should he start riding up and down on my private driveway, well, then would have a point and could stop him from doing so. Does that include “shooting him off the moped” ? Certainly not.

  10. Such passivity to the idea that a select few have such a right to teach others a “lesson”, in the form of destroying property and likely taking a life.

    Per capita, one wonders about the index of abusing wealth? In the US for example, the disparity between business executives with the rest of the work force has been greater than that of other countries. The rap on the American busness executive is that he/she is worth less that of their peers in many other countries.

    American healthcare relative to America’s overall wealth is considered by some to be absolutely horrendous.

    The snooty mindset that Anglo-Americans can teach others such “lessons” is morally flawed.

  11. Come to think of it, how about some of the comparative stats on per capita defense spending?

  12. GER O'BRIEN says:

    First of all gentlemen, I actually WAS joking!;-) Of course if they enter UK aerospace I would have one shot down. Would prevent it happening again. The Russians would make a lot of noise but nothing would happen. And besides, as South Koreans can tell you, Russians can be quite trigger happy themselves when someone enters their aerospace. But what really riles me is the utter waste of money -and thats the heart of the matter, not small penis syndrome. The Russians would be better off using the money to help their atrocious village poor and the Brits should simply know better. You can expect this chest pounding from Russia after her windfall, but I’m suprised at the Brits.
    And before you saying anything about the above Mike, whether you’ve been to Moscow or not is an unanswered question; you certainly have never been to a Russian village. When you have visited one, feel free to comment on them; if not, dont.

  13. Some “joke”.

    I believe that my being to Moscow was previously mentioned elsewhere on more than one occasion.

    I most certainly have been to a few Russian villages as well.

    So much for the ongoing lies.

    An apparent attempt to deflect attention away from a not so intelligent remark about shooting down a Russian jet, to make some kind of a warped morality point.

    This venue isn’t about trying to get full disclosure on where was has been and what one does.

    On the hypocritical South Korean reference, how about the Iranian civilian jet that was shot down under much better visibility conditions (if I correctly recall)?

    007 was tragic for sure. There’s no excuse for it. However, that strategically sensitive area of the USSR saw a number of provocative over flights prior to the shoot down. Playing the childhood equivalent of nah, nah, nah, nah, nah; catch me if you can have blowback – whether justified or not. Provoking the Soviet air defense structure in that part of the USSR increased a certain negative climate.

    All this reminds me of the 1960s American movie The Russians are Coming:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0060921/

    That movie depicted a near fatal situation involving civilans and a beached Soviet sub off the coast of an American town.

  14. GER O'BRIEN says:

    Mike, my hands are up, I shouldnt have said that, please disregard. But genuinely I think Russia has better things to be spending the cash on than useless bomber sorties. You wouldnt believe the poverty in some villages, and I mean that – these people living there think Moscow is like Disneyland.

    ”On the hypocritical South Korean reference etc…”
    Mike, I cant possibly be hypocritical on that because I was talking about Britain, not the USA, and Britain when last I checked hadnt shot down any airliners. In any event why KL007 happened is indeed not clear to this day, though I stll simply cant believe that the pilot couldnt see the markings and recognise it was a passenger jet.

    ”most certainly have been to a few Russian villages as well.”

    Really? Not trying to start a flame war, but could you name one of them? Cos if you did, you’d agree that bomber sorties are a waste of money.

  15. Another attempt at gathering info. to go along with not so decent slurs about me at SRB.

    To my knowledage, 007 was the only civilian jet shot down by the Soviets. I could be wrong on that. Actually, there has been a good deal written on the kind of cat and mouse games in that part of the USSR. Someone I know who is in the know on this said it’s true.

    You suggested the Soviets (and Russians as well) are trigger happy on such matter. I correctly raised the Iranian civilian jet shootdown to provide balance to such a suggestion.

    Since we’re prone to getting off topic, let me do so by strongly recommending this excellent Cold War topic movie:

    http://us.imdb.com/title/tt0055256/

    Beats getting off topic with repeat crank like slurs.

  16. By the way, per capita wise, such “waste” (on the armed forces) is (as I understand it) greater in the US (and no doubt some other countries), where not everyone is so well off.

    Meantime, as a relative power in a not so secure world, Russia has reason to want to maintain a degree of armed strength.

  17. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”Another attempt at gathering info. to go along with not so decent slurs about me at SRB.”
    No Mike, it was a genuine question. there are thousands of villages in Russia, and surely you’d remember the name of one. My point is very simple; Russia should not be wasting this money whilst its poor live in shit in villages. If you’d seen a typical Russian village, you’d understand in no time. So, do you agree that this is a chest-pounding waste of money for Russia?

    ”To my knowledage, 007 was the only civilian jet shot down by the Soviets. I could be wrong on that.”
    That is correct. But Russia is the main successor state of the USSR so I dont believe I’m stretching things that far by calling Russia trigger happy. Admittedly, the Russians would hardly do the same now. There was a lot of accusations of US incursions into Soviet airspace at the time, but I am baffled that the pilot did not recognize that it was a civilian 747, a very distinctive plane indeed. I’m not a pilot and dont know enough though really. In any event, he was ordered to fire. Discovery Channel had an excellent documentary that, like all good ones, left you with more questions, not less.

    ”Meantime, as a relative power in a not so secure world, Russia has reason to want to maintain a degree of armed strength.”

    No. Feed your people first, then enter big willie competitions. Priorities, priorities.

    ”I correctly raised the Iranian civilian jet shootdown to provide balance to such a suggestion.”
    You did, but I was talking about Britain, one of the protagonists in the piece. The USA is of no relevance.

    ”Beats getting off topic with repeat crank like slurs.”
    Mike, I let go above, I would ask you to do the same, as Andy has asked both of us. You seem entirely unused to being offered any sort of politeness and consequently unable to deal with same; I wonder why.

  18. You haven’t been “polite” to me as any decently civil person can see.

    Unlike others, I don’t engage in troll antics, designed to get off topic. I also don’t hide in “managed” (censored) situations.

    As for your point on how Russia should spend its money: it can be applied to others as well. Among nations, there’re per capita stats on what % of the economy is spent on defense issues. Russia’s current defense spending isn’t out of wack in relation to existing realities.

    The bottom line is that Russia has good reason to want to bolster its defense capability.

  19. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”As for your point on how Russia should spend its money: it can be applied to others as well. ”

    I absolutely agree. Nobody should be doing this stuff unless their affairs are in order at home. But realistically, which country is seriously going to provoke Russia? They’d be toast afterward.

    ”You haven’t been “polite” to me as any decently civil person can see.”
    Agreed also.

  20. What’s the promoting of NATO expansion in Ukraine and Georgia and the deployment of a missile defense system at Russia about?

    Ukraine and Georgia don’t need reasonably NATO as much as they would benefit from good socioeconomic assistance.

    If there was no NATO expansion and missile defense deployment in Poland an the Czech Republic, I suspect that Russia wouldn’t be so “aggressive”. Russians seem genuinely yearning to play a non-military economic role on the world scene. Simultaneously, there’re some in the West who don’t think this is such a great idea.

    I seem to recall the not particularly Russia friendly Stratfor (among others) having commentary that there’s an influential grouping of those in the West seeking to limit Russia’s development.

    Having a strong military capability is still very important. The situation in former Yugoslvia confirms this point.

    There’re some really shity dirt poor areas in the US that would be considered such by Russian standards.

  21. GER O'BRIEN says:

    I dont disagree with anything above. But really, sending these planes on these missions is I believe good money after bad. I know the Russians either feel threatened or want to feel threatened by the missile system in Poland; for what its worth, I think they’re wrong, as the system simply cannot deal with a large scale nuclear attack – this can only deal with a few missiles, and even then is totally unproven.

    ”There’re some really shity dirt poor areas in the US that would be considered such by Russian standards.”

    Mike, I’m sorry, but this is a fallacy, and you’re fooling no-one. I’ve been to Mississippi, Lousiana and even spent three nites in South Central LA, and none of them are as bad as a dirt-poor Russian village. Mike I dont know why you feel the need to defend Russia in hopeless arguments; if you saw life in some derevniye, you’d be shocked and calling for expenditure there rather than on submarines. Some Russian villages have simply got to possibly the poorest places in the developed world.
    I have no doubt that parts of the US are very poor, but nowhere near as bad as in Russia. Russia is not Moscow, St Petes or Novosibirsk.

  22. Have you been to the poorest parts of Appalachia?

    Contrary to what you said, I’m well aware of both conditions (US and Russia).

    As for Russia: its developement is reaching other areas of the country, besides the lead cities you mention. Not too long ago, Boris Jordan had an article providing the details. This was further expressed to me by a frequent visitor to numerous parts of Russia.

    Having a strong air defense is beneficial in the ability to project the perceived national interssts of the nation in question.

    This 12 million figure you keep mentioning mention is a drop in the bucket in contrast to the US dollars supporting the American arned involvement in Iraq.

    Why have the mentioned missile defence in Poland and the Czech Republic and urge Goergia and ukraine in NATO?

    On Charlie Rose, Vitaly Churkin mentioned Bush administration comments seeking less Russian involvement with Western Europe. He added by rhetorically asking how the US would like it if Russia was actively seeking to have Canada and Mexico in a lessened US direction.

    All this plays into the Russian view that they need some armed forces cover. Again, Russia’s current military budget allocation isn’t out of reason. I recall a not so distant Putin address detailing the specifics.

  23. Tim Newman says:

    was a lot of accusations of US incursions into Soviet airspace at the time, but I am baffled that the pilot did not recognize that it was a civilian 747, a very distinctive plane indeed.

    Indeed. There is a world of difference in the US accidentally shooting down an Iranian airliner which had been deliberately flown amongst military aircraft which were attacking ships for the sole purpose of hoping one would be shot down and used for propaganda purposes, and the shooting down of 007 which was a lone 747 painted sky-blue which had drifted off course.

    On the latter, I can really recommend this post from the sadly short-lived and long-defunct Laika the Space Dog. (The entire bloge is worth reading, some of the posts are superb). Incidentally, the plane was shot over South Sakhalin and came in the sea near the island of Moneron, which I have seen from the shoreline. The jet which shot it down was scrambled from a small airbase between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Dolinsk, about 20km from my place here. I passed by it once before, I might take a trip out there this summer and see if I can get some photos.

  24. and the shooting down of 007 which was a lone 747 painted sky-blue which had drifted off course.

    At 3:26 AM it doesn’t help a lot to fly a plane painted sky-blue. Particularly when all the cabin lights are turned off and the plane is flying on an entry-course into Soviet airspace, regularly used by an USAF Boeing 707 (codenamed “Cobra Ball”).

    A fighter coming in at 6 o’clock low can’t see the “hump”, which differs the silouette of a 4 engine 747 from that of a engine 707. Particularly not at 3:26 AM and with no visible cabin lights.

    The world of difference lies in the nationality of the “offender”, doesn’t it ?

  25. should read: “which differs the silouette of a 4 engine 747 from that of a 4 engine 707″

  26. Tim Newman says:

    At 3:26 AM it doesn’t help a lot to fly a plane painted sky-blue.

    Perhaps that’s why they painted the big, fuck-off Korean Airlines livery on it.

    A fighter coming in at 6 o’clock low can’t see the “hump”, which differs the silouette of a 4 engine 747 from that of a engine 707

    This might be a point had the pilot stated at any time that he mistook the 747 for a 707. He didn’t. In addition, it would be a better point if the fighter had come in at 6 o,clock low, instead of having flown past it, turned around and come from above, dropped below it, then fired its missiles.

    Particularly not at 3:26 AM and with no visible cabin lights.

    According to the pilot of the Russian jet, the lights were turned on.

    The world of difference lies in the nationality of the “offender”, doesn’t it ?

    No. The world of difference lies in the circumstances of each incident.

  27. Tim Newman says:

    Apologies, a mistake in the above: the pilot stated the 747’s lights were on, not cabin lights.

  28. [Comment deleted by moderator]

  29. GER O'BRIEN says:

    ”Have you been to the poorest parts of Appalachia?”

    I havent, but I have seen ‘Deliverance’, so I’ll take your word for it. But provincial Russia is just as bad and nobody should be wasting money on this stuff, which again is glorified small penis syndrome. Stupid, pointless chest thumping. I do appreciate that the Russians want to have some new military gear, but at the end of the day, Russia has the nukes. Realistically, nobody is going to mess around with them. Its a waste of jet fuel, time, and worst of all money.

    ”This 12 million figure you keep mentioning mention is a drop in the bucket”

    I know it is, but its still waste, and even 20 dollars is a lot of money when you have no dollars at all. As the old Irish people say ”its a lot when you havent got it”

    ”and the shooting down of 007 which was a lone 747 painted sky-blue which had drifted off course.”

    Heribert I do appreciate that there are technical difficulties spotting planes at night that I am not aware of it. But how in God’s Name the pilot did not spot the humpy back is beyond me. Surely he made several passes, had a good look? I do feel that its hard to imagine the pilot willingly shot it down knowing it was a passanger plane, which leads me to conclude that the Russians simply wanted to shoot something down, so riled were they, and gave the order to fire without the pilot having a good look. Either that or he’s the first MiG pilot with cateracts, glaucoma, one lazy eye and the other one glass. I mean who the fuck could miss spotting a 747? They’re enormous beasts.

    ”Incidentally, the plane was shot over South Sakhalin and came in the sea near the island of Moneron, which I have seen from the shoreline. The jet which shot it down was scrambled from a small airbase between Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and Dolinsk, about 20km from my place here. I passed by it once before, I might take a trip out there this summer and see if I can get some photos.”

    Be careful there in Sakhalin Tim. Your car might get mistaken for an Abrams tank or a Saracen in the dark and you’ll have the Russians taking pot-shots at you too.

  30. Tim Newman says:

    Have you been to the poorest parts of Appalachia?

    I have. They are as poor as anywhere you’ll find in the US, but in the US you have to drive to the poorest parts of Appalachia to see it. In Russia, you can just stroll down behind the railway station of whatever town you happen to be in.

  31. There’re poorer places than Russia.

    The poor have a right to defend themselves.

    The nuclear umbrella doesn’t eliminate the importance of having a reasonably strong conventional force capability

  32. Besides needing quality planes, an effective air force requires a good amount of flight time training. These aspects can get costly.

    It’s easy to then compare where such funding can go to as an alternative.
    A point that has universal merit.

    In DC, many of its poor inhabitants have wondered about the building of new sports facilities for professional teams. Money that I understand comes in part from the government. You’ve existing facilities that are 30-40 years old and considered obsolete. On the other hand, you’ve crumbling schools twice as old.

  33. Andy says:

    “The poor have a right to defend themselves.”

    True, but I don’t think Russia’s actions are particularly about defending themselves. They are more about enhancing their visibility, and saying to the world again – “look, we can project our power.”

    Having said that, I think that this is fairly sensible for Russia – in this world, image counts for a lot. This is just one part of building up the image that Russia is back and will (oddly enough) play its part in building Russia’s economy.

    And the UK probably benefits, too, from the flybys. It’s a great training opportunity for its newer pilots, for example.

    (And, knowing the RAF, any flight time on actual interceptions is probably deducted from other, more routine, flying time, so the overall number of hours in flight remains the same).

  34. A bit more than just that.

    The follwoing point is not made to rehash the virtues of which policy is better.

    In former Yugoslavia, the US/NATO succeeded to the degree they did on account of might making right.

    Waste can be found in plenty of places. Why risk wasting a more cooperative peace time spirit by actively engaging Georgia and Ukraine in NATO, along with the installing of defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic?

    I don’t really think that it’s Counterpunch, Chronicles and Antiwar.com that are the more “paranoid”.

    I agree that it’s a good training process for the RAF. It makes one even think that it becomes an expensive draw of sorts. Russians fly by the UK, with the RAF having the opportunity to test their response time.

    Hey, I’m all for building state of the art fitness centers for every community to use. If utilized properly, this would decrease the rising health care costs. The money for all this can no doubt be recovered with a changed allocation of government spending.

    Sorry for the rant. Just had an argument with someone on this.

  35. Tim Newman says:

    Having said that, I think that this is fairly sensible for Russia – in this world, image counts for a lot.

    Until someone calls their bluff

  36. Yes, they’re such cowardly blowhards.

    A post-Cold War likening of Johnson bragging about he looked Kosygin in the eye, with Kosygin blinking first.

  37. Andy says:

    Seriously – who’s going to call their bluff?

    These bombers are effectively defenseless against a modern fighter jet. Against an RAF fighter jet even.

    It’d be like the proverbial turkey shoot, and international condemnation would turn on the clumping turkey hunters, rather than the turkeys.

  38. Tim Newman says:

    Seriously – who’s going to call their bluff?

    Not the Brits, that’s for sure. They know each other too well from decades of Cold War playfullness. But Russia has a habit of making cack-handed moves when it thinks it’s trying to be clever. Let’s see how well the Chinese would react to similar treatment in another 5 years or so.

  39. Paolo Mancini says:

    Britain is occupied by the US Military, it’s not a sovereign nation.
    British soldiers must be very frustrated.