September 6, 2007 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Norway says it scrambled F-16 fighter jets twice today to keep an eye on a flight of 8 Russian Tupolev-95 "Bear" bombers.
RNoAF F-16BM taking off in full blaze from Bardufoss AB
Britain says some of its warplanes were involved, too.
Lt. Col. John Inge Oeglaend, of the Norwegian
Joint Headquarters, said the Russian bombers did not enter Norwegian air space but did fly near the country's northern tip in the Barents Sea before heading out into the North Atlantic and back.
Two Norwegian F-16s were sent up both times that the Russian aircraft approached Norway
, in keeping with normal practice.
spokesman James Appathurai said Norway and Britain launched quick-reaction interceptors and airborne-warning planes and tankers "as part of routine NATO procedure." He added that the Russians had every right to carry out the maneuvers: "There is no controversy about this."
Russian news agencies quoted air force spokesman Col. Alexander Drobyshevsky as saying the Tu-95 bombers had begun patrols of distant areas of the globe late Wednesday, in accordance with plans announced by President Vladimir Putin for a resumption of the flights.
It's the third time Norwegian F-16s have been scrambled since mid-July. Russian air exercises have been on the rise this summer. and analysts said it shows that the Russians have the aircraft, the trained pilots, the fuel and the funds to use them, all of which were lacking in the years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.
Fredrik Westerlund, an analyst at the Swedish Defense Research Agency, said Russia was reviving maneuvers along Soviet-era routes down the North Sea and toward Guam in the Pacific.
"These are Cold War routes," he said. "These are the routes they had before for nuclear weapons strikes. ... The closest route to the U.S. is over the North Pole. And the route over the North Sea makes it possible to reach Great Britain.
In mid-August, Norwegian F-16s scrambled to monitor a flight of 11 Russian bombers off western Norway in the biggest show of Russian air power over the Norwegian Sea since the early 1990s.