Russian Supersonic Jets Force NATO to Scramble Fighters

Sukhoi Su-27 jet fighters perform during the "Russia Arms Expo 2013" 9th international exhibition of arms, military equipment and ammunition, in the Urals city of Nizhny Tagil, September 25, 2013. Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

NATO jets scrambled to intercept four Russian fighter planes flying in international airspace near Baltic allied territory yesterday, after the leading Russian aircraft's maneuvers allegedly broke the sound barrier.

A NATO official has confirmed that an interception of four Russian jets took place at around 8am local time as a group of two Russian Tu-22 "Backfire" bombers and two Russian Su-27 "Flanker" fighters flew over the Baltic Sea from mainland Russia towards the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad and were subsequently intercepted.

The group flew without a pre-filed flight plan and without communicating with civilian air traffic control, according to NATO.

While NATO does not publish exact details regarding such interceptions, according to the Aviationist website the Tu-22 leading the Russian formation flew at supersonic speed forcing allied aircraft to perform a "supersonic run" in return to keep up with the Russian bomber.

The NATO base at Siauliai, Lithuania where the alliance has deployed its Baltic Air Policing mission tracked the Russian jets and eventually sent a Eurofighter Typhoon to escort the Russian planes.

The allied Typhoon was then prompted to chase after the Tu-22 at supersonic speed - the first time such a high speed pursuit has been recorded during the recent spike of Russian unannounced forays near allied skies.

Last week NATO intercepted the largest group of Russian jets this year near allied airspace as 11 of them flew in formation near Kaliningrad, as Russia's minister of defence Sergey Shoygu said this month his country had no plans to stop these unannounced flights.

Russian presence in international waters and skies has increased dramatically since relations between the Kremlin and the west have deteriorated, with Scandinavia and the Baltic countries complaining about approaching Russian jets or sea vessels near their borders.

The Baltic ministries of defence have expressed concern at the rate of which Russia was sending its planes near their airspace without warning, with Estonia's International Centre for Defence and Security arguing that Russia may be angling to raise European governments to stop treating Russia's activities with such alarm, which would allow Russia to strike against "one or several Baltic capitals".

A recent report from the London-based thinktank the European Leadership Network warned that Russia's "invisible" fighters are putting passenger flights at risk.