More NATO jets are being scrambled from Norway

By earlier this month, the number of Quick Reaction Alerts for 2020 exceeded the total for 2019.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - September 14, 2020
A Norwegian F-16 flies alongside a Russian Il-38 aircraft. (Norwegian Air Force via The Independent Barents Observer)

Two NATO F-16s scrambled into the air on Monday to identify Russian military planes, as the number of such QRAs (Quick Reaction Alerts) in the High North has already surpassed the 2019 count.

“We can confirm NATO QRA from Bodø on mission today,” spokesperson Major Brynjar Stordal told the Barents Observer.

Also this weekend, Stordal said, two Russian Tu-142 anti-submarine warfare planes from the Northern Fleet were identified outside Norwegian air space. The planes continued south to the north of England before returning home. Two weeks ago, the U.S. Navy submarine Seawolf surfaced outside Tromsø in northern Norway for crew replacement.

By September 14, Norwegian fighter jets on NATO alert have been scrambled 41 times. In 2019, 38 QRA take-offs took place. The number of Russian aircraft identified last year was 83, one less than so far in 2020, which still has more than 3 months left.

The Norwegian Joint Headquarters underlines that it has several means to identify Russian military planes, so scrambles itself do not necessarily paint the whole picture.

In the first 15 years after the end of the first Cold War, there were very few scrambles. In 2007, Russian long-range bombers (Tu-95 and Tu-160) again started to fly west of the Barents Sea into international airspace in the North Atlantic.

The number of scrambles from the airbase in Bodø increased until 2014. In 2015-2016 the Russian military flight activity in the High North was substantially lower again, which the Norwegian military attributed to activities other places, and maintenance challenges with the planes. From 2018, when Norway hosted the Trident Juncture exercise, Russia’s long-distance flights increased again.

Last week, Norwegian, British, American and Danish maritime surveillance aircraft were daily met by Russian fighter jets over international airspace in the Barents Sea as the four-nation NATO naval group were exercising navigation in the area.