January 26, 2010 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Norwegian F-16 jet fighters identified less Russian military aircrafts outside Norwegian airspace last year than in 2008.
A RNoAF F-16AM takes off in wintery scene at Bodø AB.
A total of 77 Russian military aircrafts, mainly strategic bombers, were identified by Norwegian fighters under NATO
command, according to the open Internet news service BarentsObserver.com.
Additional 40 aircrafts were registered, but not identified by Norwegian fighters, making the total numbers of Russian westbound military flights in the north approximately 120. The information was provided by the Norwegian Operational Command Head Quarters in Bodø, northern-Norway.
The numbers of identified Russian bombers are less than in 2008, when NATO fighters scrambled 32 times to identify 87 Russian bombers outside Norwegian territory.
Russian military aircrafts have only one route to show-off outside the airspace of western-European countries; via the Barents Sea north of Norway
’s North Cape.
Russian strategic bombers of the Tu-95 and Tu-160 are based at the Engels air base in Saratov south of Moscow. Northbound flights first cross the European part of Russia and out in the Barents Sea, before they turn south along the coast of Norway and often as far south as the North Sea. Such flights can last for 10 to 15 hours and often includes refueling in the air.
Sometimes, the northbound bombers fly out over the Barents Sea and turn around before Norwegian F-16s are airborne and therefore can’t identify them. Or, the bombers continue from the Barents Sea airspace towards the High Arctic and therefore are not in the vicinity of Norwegian airspace.
Russia resumed long-range patrols around the Barents Region coast in 2007 after an extended layoff that followed the end of the Cold War. In 2007, NATO fighter jets scrambled 47 times and identified 88 strategic Russian bombers.
The bombers patrol seems to continue on regular basis also this year. Last week, F-16s from Bodø Main Air Station were again scrambled to identify two Russian Tu-95s as reported by BarentsObserver.