A Russian refuelling plane flying near Estonian airspace has been intercepted by RAF and German fighter jets, just a day after a US drone got entangled over the Black Sea with Putin’s own military aircraft. British and German typhoons were scrambled on Tuesday to address an Il-78 Midas refuelling plane flying between St Petersburg and Kaliningrad, after it failed to communicate with air traffic control in Estonia. The Typhoons were stationed together in Estonia as part of a world first NATO joint mission.
The two NATO fighter jets intercepted the Russian Ilyushin Il-78, named Midas by the alliance, as part of a “routine” mission, according to the Ministry of Defence.
The four-engined aerial tanker, which refuels Russian fighter jets while in flight, was not regarded with serious suspicion, though it had not alerted Estonian air traffic control to its presence, and has little to no offensive capabilities.
The incident is notable as it was the first time the two NATO member states had conducted a joint aerial military operation together, and in direct response to Russia.
The jets are part of the RAF’s 140 Expeditionary Air Wing and the German 71 Tactical Air Wing Richthofen.
A Typhoon pilot from the RAF’s Bomber Squadron said: “As a fighter pilot this was routine business, even though I was flying alongside a German colleague.”
The pilot said they had identified and monitored the Russian jet as it “transited close to NATO airspace”.
Given it hadn’t communicated with air traffic control, they intercepted it to ensure they knew “who they [were] and [to] maintain flight safety for all airspace users”.
The two fighter jets subsequently redirected to intercept an An-148 airliner that was also passing close to Estonia airspace.
Joint British and German operations are set to continue until the end of April as the former nation prepares to take over from its fellow NATO member with the long-established Baltic air policing mission.
British forces, on behalf of NATO, will conduct the missions for four months along the Russian border.
Four RAF Typhoon jets are currently deployed as part of the mission and are based at the Ämari air base in Estonia.
Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “Nato continues to form the bedrock of our collective security. This joint UK and German deployment in the Baltics clearly demonstrates our collective resolve to challenge any potential threat to Nato’s borders, whilst demonstrating our combined strength.”
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