How Many Incursions Into Nato Airspace Has Russian Military Made

How Many Incursions Into Nato Airspace Has Russian Military Made – Photo taken in Baltic airspace by a Royal Air Force Typhoon pilot, intercepting a Russian Mikoyan MiG-31 aircraft on July 24, 2015 during a NATO patrol. Photo: British Ministry of Defence/EPA

In Europe, through the Aegean and in the Asia-Pacific region, interceptions are ‘almost routine’ but the sheer volume of incidents risks escalation

How Many Incursions Into Nato Airspace Has Russian Military Made

World powers reported a surge in airspace violations and incidents where planes were intercepted to intercept foreign jets, amid geopolitical tensions in Europe and Asia.

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NATO member aircraft were forced to carry out more than 500 scrambles in Europe in 2014 – a four-fold increase on the previous year. Nearly 85% of this was to intercept Russian aircraft. This year, there have been more than 300 scrambles, according to data provided by NATO to the Guardian. These are some of the highest numbers since the end of the cold war.

Elsewhere, Japan has been scrambling planes in record numbers due to China’s activities. Airspace violations by Turkish aircraft in Greek waters increased three and a half times last year compared to two years ago.

Although almost all of these interventions were described by those close to the operation as “almost routine”, some incidents indicated a risk of escalation due to the high volume of incidents.

Despite the increase in interceptions, NATO will halve the number of aircraft used in Baltic air missions by the end of this year.

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A scramble does not mean a violation of national airspace or military aviation rules. In fact, in most cases, there is no violation. Last year, there were 10 attacks by Russian aircraft into the airspace belonging to NATO members. Eight of them are on Estonian islands (six in remote Vaindloo). Others were in Norwegian and Polish airspace in March and April, and both were within seconds.

No strikes were recorded by the 28 NATO members in 2015. However, a Russian plane entered the airspace of Finland, which is not a NATO member, on June 26. While the Swedish armed forces have counted nine attacks into the airspace of the Swedish state so far this year. The country’s airspace has been violated 12 times in the past year. Almost all of these attacks were into Swedish airspace, but not by Russian aircraft.

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NATO officials explained to the Guardian that it was difficult to understand what Russia’s motivation was and to know for sure if the event was a provocation or could be explained by other factors such as the weather. What is clear is that there has been an increase in Russian activity. Compared to the current level of activity, for example, there were only seven Russian attacks into Estonian airspace between 2006 and 2013.

Russia’s activities include some of the more provocative — albeit isolated — incidents. This included flying multiple times over military ships and bombers taking unconventional routes close to US, Portuguese and British airspace.

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However, according to Russia, this is all driven by an increase in the activity of “NATO and partner countries” attacking its airspace.

A Russian government official told the Guardian that the Russian air force flights, which are usually training exercises in international airspace, should be seen in the context of “a drastic increase in the activity of foreign reconnaissance and warplanes near Russia’s borders”.

According to data collected by the Russian authorities, and shared with the Guardian, NATO conducted more than 3,000 tactical flight sequences near the Russian border in 2014, more than double the previous year. NATO patrols in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia increased by 3.5 times.

However, according to Lt. Col. Jay Janzen, chief of media operations at NATO Supreme HQ Allied Powers Europe, Russia regularly uses disinformation and propaganda to confuse the public about current events.

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“Scrambles were launched in response to Russian activity. Their sole purpose is to maintain the integrity of NATO’s European airspace and protect NATO countries from air strikes.

He acknowledged that NATO had increased the number of surveillance flights in recent months, but insisted that they remained “hundreds of kilometers from the Russian border”.

Despite increased interaction with Russian aircraft, NATO will scale back the number of Baltic patrol mission aircraft to eight this autumn, from 16. Before the event in Ukraine, the patrol mission consisted of four aircraft. Janzen said the reduction was appropriate for the scale of the task.

There are mitigating factors involved in the increase in air strikes. National flight restrictions are tight in eastern Europe, and the Ukraine conflict has heightened political sensitivities, with some capitals occasionally keen to escalate the risk.

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The biggest reason for many of the scrambles is the fact that Russian planes often do not comply with international conventions, western officials say.

Russian military aircraft often turn off their transponders and, as a result, do not “squawk”, leaving air traffic controllers in the dark. They also did not share their flight plans.

In an analysis by the European Leadership Network (ELN) of 66 incidents, one of the three “high-risk” incidents recorded between March 2014 and March 2015 involved a near collision between a Scandinavian Airlines 737 with 132 passengers departing from Copenhagen and a Russian surveillance plane. This is because the latter does not broadcast its position.

The Russian government said: “Russian pilots are training under strict orders to comply with the requirements of international and national laws and regulations. The flights are carried out in uninhabited areas, mostly open seas, without violating national borders. Russian planes are always shadowed by NATO fighters. Russia respects all international and national restrictions imposed on these activities, and will continue to do so in the future.

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Russia isn’t the only one dicing with European airspace. Last year, Japan started 943 scrambles – one less than the highest number on record (in 1984). Practically all involved Russian (473) and Chinese (464) fighters.

In 2000, Japan was involved in only 155 interceptions. Much of the increased activity has coincided with an increase in China’s military spending (from less than 50bn yuan in 1990 to 850bn yuan last year), increased capabilities, and in recent years, increased numbers and activities on land, in water and in . airspace near Japan behind an active dispute over an uninhabited island in the East China Sea.

Of the 173 interceptions in the first three months of 2015, 57 were of Russian aircraft compared to 114 incidents involving Chinese aircraft.

One characteristic of China’s behavior, according to some western aviation experts, is that its planes are more “aggressive” than Russia’s.

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Half a world away from the East China Sea, another disputed territory has increased airspace violations.

In 2014, Greek military authorities recorded 2,244 violations of Greek airspace by Turkish aircraft, three and a half times more attacks than in 2013.

Most of the interceptions have taken place through the strip of the Aegean Sea, a disputed area since the 1970s. Greece and Turkey contest the extent of Greek airspace around the island, Athens claims 10 miles while Ankara only recognizes six.

A spike in tension between Greece and Turkey over the Aegean dispute is not unprecedented. In 2006, a mid-air collision between Greek and Turkish fighter jets sparked a crisis. The Greek pilot was killed in the crash. In 1987 and 1996, the two countries almost went to war.

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The North American Aerospace Defense Command (Norad) has intercepted and visually identified Russian long-range flights about 25 times in the past five years, or an average of five times a year. That number doubled to about 10 in 2014, with a particular spike in July and early August, which Norad believes is related to training.

Norad officials said it was important to note that, in all of these incidents, the Russian aircraft remained in international airspace at all times.

In two separate incidents recorded in July this year – around the southern coast of Alaska, near the Aleutian Islands, and on the coast of central California – there was no time for the Russian bombers to enter the airspace of the North American country.

This article was amended on 2 September 2015 to clarify that most of the attacks into Swedish airspace in 2014–15 were not by Russian aircraft.

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Last week, all readers who completed a quick survey in The Aviationist were given the possibility to download an exclusive ebook: “Cold War 2.0: All the most important encounters between NATO and Russian warplanes since 2013”

The ebook is a collection of posts that have been published on this site between 2013 and 2015, and helps you understand how the interceptions have been repeated, tense and more dangerous; proof that we are living in a new Cold War, or “Cold War 2.0”, as it is called.

Based on our ebook, Willum Morsch, Graphics editor at The Volkskrant prepared an interesting infographic that maps all the events that have been reported in the 70-page report.

Click below for a larger version of the infographic; By the way, you can still download the ebook after taking the survey here.

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David Cenciotti is a journalist in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the most popular and widely read military magazines in the world

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