Russia suffers sixth military aircraft crash in six weeks

Updated | The Russian air force has suffered its sixth crash in as many weeks after a Tupolev Tu-95MS Bear strategic bomber failed whilst on a training flight in Russia's far-eastern Khabarovskiy region. Two of the seven pilots have been killed.

Russia has suffered a series of military aircraft crashes this summer, since a MiG29 'Fulcrum' and Su-34 'Fullback' fighter crashed on the same day in the first week of June, in seemingly unrelated incidents. Within five days of those crashes, a Tu-95 bomber ignited during a practice flight, prompting the air force to ground other Bear bombers for the day.

Another MiG-29 went down above Krasnodarsk region during the first week of July, followed by an Su-24M 'Fencer' frontal strike-bomber crashing in Khabarovskiy region last week, killing both pilots on board.

In an increasingly troubling trend another Bear bomber, a Tu-95MS, crashed during practice this morning in Khabarovskiy region, 80km from Khabarovsk the region's biggest city, Russian independent news agency Interfax reports.

The Bear wreck exploded on impact and is "completely destroyed" according to RIA, while state news agency Itar-Tass reported that two of the seven servicemen on board have died. The rest have been taken to hospital. The Bear was flying without ammunition and an insider source told Tass a possible scenario for the crash could be that all four engines of the bomber ceased working. Preliminary reports believed all crew members to have ejected.

After the first week of serious crashes this summer Dr Igor Sutyagin of the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) told Newsweek that these incidents may be as a result of the Russian air force "overstretching" itself.

"The Bear bombers for example are designed for a single strike on missions, not for extended training flights," Sutyagin said. "The maintenance template for these vehicles does not take into account the much higher operational tempo they have been operating under lately."

Since relations between Moscow and the West have deteriorated over Russia's backing of separatist forces in Ukraine, the Kremlin has made frequent reminders of its military might, one of which is their increasing number of "patrol flights".

These unannounced incursions of military aircraft both near and into European states' airspace have prompted a record amount of scrambles and interceptions by the nearby Baltic Nato air police base and angered Western governments.

Russia's military planes have also been escorted away from UK and Finnish airspace. Last week a Russian aircraft violated Finland's airspace for the sixth time in just over a year.

Russian Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu boasted in March that Russia does not plan on stopping these patrol flights.

According to Sutyagin, should this trend of Russian crashes during practice flights continue it increases the possibility of a similar crash near Europe.

"No one can exclude mishaps on any flying machine especially one that is overexerted. That is why you cannot rule out a mishap such as this happening in European skies," he added.

Update: This article was updated after new information emerged about the fate of the pilots.