The Times of London reports on yet more confirming evidence that we should believe Russian "President" Vladimir Putin when he says he means the West no harm and we need not ring his country with defensive installations:
The Cold War has made a surprise return in the form of two Russian Bear bombers. The aircraft flew towards British airspace during an exercise off Scotland to snoop on Royal Navy warships. RAF sources said yesterday [May 9th] that it was such a rare occurrence that two Tornado F3 air defence aircraft were scrambled to see the aircraft off. During the Cold War, Soviet Bear and Bison bombers regularly flew close to British airspace to test out Britain’s defence systems. RAF aircraft had to scramble every week to force the pilots to turn away. However, the habit had largely died out since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The two Bears were spotted on radar heading towards the Outer Hebrides during Exercise Neptune Warrior, which took place between April 22 and May 3. The exercise involved multinational warships, submarines and aircraft and included live firing.
The Two Tornado F3s, on short-notice quick-reaction alert status at RAF Leuchars, in Fife, flew alongside the bombers until they turned away. The aircraft had flown from their base in Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula in the far north of Russia. Squadron Leader Keith Wardlaw, a spokesman for the RAF, could not remember the last time such an encounter had taken place. “The Russians obviously thought it might be worth coming through to have a look at what we were up to and probably take some photos,” Squadron Leader Wardlaw said. He added: “It’s a throwback to the Cold War when they used to fly in regularly to poke and prod at the edges of British airspace and test our reaction times.” He said that it was normal to let such aircraft “know we’re there by pulling up alongside them, and they left quietly”. The incident lasted about 20 minutes. Paul Jackson, Editor of Jane’s All the World’s Aircraft, said that, although old, the aircraft were still effective. “This aircraft dates back to the 1950s and although the air-frame might look dated it is still highly effective in terms of long-range maritime reconnaissance,” he said. “They used to fly over the North Sea and the Greenland Gap daily during the Cold War, and while it’s rare today, it’s by no means a unique occurrence. It’s nice to know the Russians are out and about again.”
Mr Jackson said that the scrambling of the Tornadoes was nothing out of the ordinary. “The exercise was in international waters and the Russians have got just as much right to be there as we have. We do it to them, they do it to us. All the RAF are doing is telling them, ‘We could do this for real if we wanted to, so go and tell your mates back home’.” From July, the Tornado role is to be taken over by the new Eurofighter/Typhoon. However, the arrival of Russian Bears is unlikely to be their most burdensome task. These days, RAF personnel on scrambling duty spend most of their time on counter-terrorist missions, checking out commercial airliners approaching Britain in ways that arouse suspicion, either because they have taken the wrong flight path or because the pilot has not contacted ground control.
Bear F bomber
— Designed to detect and destroy submarines
— Crew of seven Ten-tonne bomb payload
— 161ft-long, with turbo-prop engine and eight propellers
— 4,000-mile flight range
— First version built in 1950s