British military aircraft were scrambled to the North Sea after two Russian bombers would not talk to UK air traffic control.
Two RAF planes were sent to the coast off Newcastle after the Russian Blackjacks long-range bomber jets passed through “a variety of international airspace”, which had been monitored by NATO partners.
A Typhoon fighter jet and a supporting Airbus Voyager tanker plane were sent out from RAF Lossiemouth in northeast Scotland just before 3pm, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed.
A French fighter jet and its supporting tanker plane had been sent out from an eastern French military airbase as they passed over the country earlier in the day.
The MoD said the British planes were scrambled as the Russian aircraft “were not talking to air traffic control, making them a hazard to all other aviation”.
Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Russian bombers probing UK airspace is another reminder of the very serious military challenge that Russia poses us today.
“We will not hesitate to continually defend our skies from acts of aggression. Once again the rapid reactions of our RAF have demonstrated how vital our armed forces are in protecting Britain.”
An MoD spokesman said the RAF “worked closely with NATO partners” as the jets made their way towards the UK “before they were intercepted by the RAF over the North Sea”.
The jets escorted the Russians north “out of the UK’s area of interest”.
“At no time did the Russian bombers enter UK sovereign airspace,” he added.
“The RAF routinely intercept, identify and escort Russian aircraft that transit international airspace within the UK’s area of interest and continue to be on call 24/7, 365.”
After about half an hour, the fighter jet started returning to base, followed by the tanker aircraft 15 minutes later.
A spokesman for the French air force, Colonel Cyrille Duvivier, said the Russian planes had been detected earlier on over France but their actions “were not hostile”.
“The usual response mechanisms were triggered: Rafale fighters took off in the late morning from the base of Saint-Dizier with a refueling plane and positioned themselves for possible intervention,” Colonel Duvivier said.
Nearly a month ago a pair of RAF fighter jets were scrambled from southeast Romania to the Black Sea to head off two Russian aircraft which were believed to be Su-30 fighters.
An RAF spokesman said the jets were sent out to deter Russian aggression and to reassure Romanians of the UK’s commitment to collective defence.
A few days before that, six Russian bombers were intercepted by RAF fighters in the same area of the Black Sea.