UK fighter jets have been scrambled to respond to Russian aircraft 21 times in the last three weeks, under NATO’s air policing operations in Europe’s Baltic region, Britain said late Saturday.
The Royal Air Force Typhoon fighters, currently operating out of Estonia, are part of so-called “quick reaction alert” aircraft used by the Western alliance to secure its eastern European flank.
Their response comes amid heightened tensions with Moscow over its ongoing war in Ukraine, which has been temporarily overshadowed this weekend by a mutiny within Russia by the Wagner paramilitary group.
The UK Typhoons, which have been operating out of an Estonian air base since March, were launched to monitor the Russian aircraft when they failed to respond to air traffic agencies, Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said in a statement.
They are policing the skies above the Baltics alongside Portuguese and Romanian air forces based in Lithuania, it noted.
The Russian aircraft intercepted included Su-27 fighter jets as well as long-range bombers, and transport and intelligence collection aircraft.
Quick reaction alert missions see NATO air force crews maintain “constant high readiness to ensure they can get airborne at a moment’s notice,” according to Britain’s defense ministry.
UK Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said the intercepts were “a stark reminder of the value of collective defence and deterrence provided by NATO.”
“The RAF has operated alongside our allies over the last three weeks to ensure both member states and our partner nations are protected, and they can be assured of our ongoing commitment to strengthening European security alongside those who share our values,” he added.
While deployed to Estonia, the RAF has also taken part in several major aerial exercises with NATO allies, including “Exercise Air Defender,” which the ministry described as the largest since the end of the Cold War.
It featured more than 250 aircraft and 10,000 personnel from 25 nations.