RAF Boulmer, near Alnwick, was at the centre of a drama in the skies above the English Channel as Typhoon fighters were scrambled to intercept two Russian bombers yesterday.
The Control and Reporting Centre, deep under the Northumberland countryside, scrambled the Typhoons after long-range search radars detected two unknown aircraft flying close to UK sovereign airspace. Boulmer’s aerospace battle managers directed the Typhoons, from RAF Lossiemouth and RAF Coningsby, in a mission that lasted more than 12 hours.
The jets flew close enough to visually identify the Russian Tu-95 ‘Bears’ and then escort them out of the ‘UK area of interest’. The Foreign Office has summoned the Russian Ambassador to explain the bombers’ presence over the Channel, which caused enough concern to disrupt civil flights.
A master controller at RAF Boulmer said: “Thanks to our integration with air defence systems across NATO, we were able to begin mission planning early and therefore were ready to act in good time. Once ordered to by the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre in Germany, Typhoon Quick Reaction Alert fighters were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth to intercept and identify the aircraft. Integration with our colleagues in the Royal Navy provided additional surveillance coverage and added value to the mission.”
Describing the atmosphere in the Control and Reporting Centre during the mission, he said: “Yesterday’s mission lasted for over 12 hours; the operations room was both calm and focussed. We constantly train for these scenarios so that we are well-rehearsed and ready to maintain the integrity of our airspace.”
The Russian Bears did not enter into UK sovereign airspace. Air-to-air refuelling for the Typhoons was provided by RAF Voyager aircraft from RAF Brize Norton, while NATO and the Air Surveillance and Control System provided radar and communications support.
The master controller said: “RAF Aerospace Battle Managers of the Air Surveillance and Control System monitor the UK’s skies 24/7, 365 days a year for unknown aircraft, assessing and reporting potential threats, whether they be, as in this case Russian Long Range Aviation or civilian aircraft that cannot be identified.”
RAF Boulmer were also involved in an incident when Russian bombers encroached on international airspace, last October.