RAF Typhoons scrambled to intercept Russian Tu-142s

Royal Air Force (RAF)-operated Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4s were scrambled from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland, on November 28 to intercept two Russian Navy Tupolev Tu-142s operating over the North Sea near UK airspace.

The multi-role fighters were launched shortly before 0800hrs and were supported by an Airbus A330 Voyager KC2/KC3 multi-role tanker transport from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. During the quick reaction alert (QRA) sortie, the Typhoon FGR4s intercepted and monitored a flight of two Tu-142 (NATO reporting name: Bear-F) maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. The Russian Navy Bear-Fs were operating within the UK’s Flight Information Region (FIR) – a busy section of airspace over the North Sea, where the Tu-142s posed hazardous to other aircraft in the area.

Russian Navy Tu-142 [MoD Crown Copyright]
An image captured by RAF Typhoon aircrews of one of the two Russian Navy-operated Tupolev Tu-142MK, serial RF-34057 'Volgoda', in flight over the North Sea on November 28, 2020. MoD Crown Copyright​

An RAF press release stated that Russian military aircraft operating in this manner are a hazard because they “do not squawk.” Squawking is the transmission of a code which identifies the aircraft, its intentions, position and altitude. The RAF added that such platforms “rarely talk to UK air traffic controllers, causing other civilian airliners in the area to be re-routed to prevent aircraft from flying too close.”

The mission was coordinated by controllers at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire, which liaised with NATO partners at the Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany. Other NATO allies close to the region also launched their own QRA missions to assist in shadowing the Russian Tu-142s. The mission was concluded by the early afternoon, with the Typhoon FGR4s returning to RAF Lossiemouth and the Voyager KC2/KC3 landing back at RAF Brize Norton.

An RAF spokesperson concluded that “the QRA crew did a fantastic job, locating aircraft that were not easy to detect very quickly. Again, the RAF has scrambled to defend the interests of the UK and NATO. It demonstrates the efficiency and resilience of our personnel, aircraft and systems.”

Russian Navy Tu-142 [MoD Crown Copyright]
The Naval Aviation of the Russian Federation operates three variants of the Tu-142 maritime patrol and anti-submarine warfare aircraft. This comprises the Tu-142MK Bear-F, Tu-142MR Bear-J and Tu-142MZ Bear-F. MoD Crown Copyright

Images taken by the RAF during the QRA mission have provided additional insight as to which specific Bear-Fs were involved in the interception. The two aircraft were: Tu-142MK, serial RF-34057 ‘Volgoda’, and Tu-142MZ, serial RF-34060.

The UK operates its QRA mission on a 24/7 basis, with aircraft poised to respond to potential threats to the nation all year round. For every QRA launch, the Typhoon FGR4s involved are joined by a Voyager KC2/KC3, which provides an air-to-air refuelling capability to increase the multi-role fighter’s endurance should the situation develop, or more potential threats emerge.