The latest close encounter between NATO and Russian planes over the Baltic Sea was different.
Early morning on Mar. 24, NATO and Swedish QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) interceptors were scrambled to identify and shadow a formation of two Russian Air Force Tu-22M Backfire bombers escorted by two Su-27 Flanker aircraft.
As usual, the aircraft were flying with no FPL, no transponder, in international airspace. But, unlike all the previous events the leading Tu-22M bomber was flying at supersonic speed!
As a consequence of the high-speed of the Russian planes, the Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon jets, providing BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) duties from Siauliau airbase, Lithuania, had to perform a supersonic run to intercept and escort the Tu-22s and accompanying Su-27s.
According to our sources, this was the very first time a Russian Air Force plane flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad Oblast was flying abeam Latvia, within the Riga FIR (Flight Information Region), heading towards Denmark and the Scandinavian peninsula at supersonic speed.
Although the Russians did not violate any rule, their flying without transponder, without establishing radio contact with any ATC agency, may pose dangers to civilian aviation. Even more so, if the bombers or their escort jets fly at supersonic speed or aggressively react to aircraft that are launched to intercept them.
Some analysts believe the purpose of the flight was provocative: Moscow has recently warned Denmark that if it joins Nato’s missile defense shield, its navy will be a legitimate target for a Russian nuclear attack.
As a side note, on the afternoon on Mar. 24, the Italian Typhoons were scrambled again to perform another supersonic interception of two Su-27 Flanker returning to mainland Russia from Kaliningrad: the pair that had been relieved by the second flight of Flankers earlier on the same day.
H/T to Erik Arnberg for providing additional details.
Image credit: Alex Beltyukov – RuSpotters Team /Wikipedia