Two Royal Air Force Typhoon jets were scrambled from Scotland to intercept and escort Russian planes as they flew over the North Sea off the coast of northern Scotland, a defense ministry spokesman said. The Russian planes are believed to be nuclear-capable Tu-160s "Blackjack" long-range strategic bombers, according to the local press.
The Typhoons took off from RAF Lossiemouth in Moray, Scotland, at around 9:30 am to deal with the alleged incursion.
Air traffic trackers show the RAF jets being trailed by the British Voyager aircraft from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, which can provide air-to-air refueling capabilities to the Typhoons.
The Voyager – a specialist air-to-air refuelling aircraft – headed southwards with the jets in tow after taking off from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
At their closest, the Russian aircraft came within 30 nautical miles (34.5 miles) of the UK, but the Ministry of Defense (MoD) said "at no point" did the Blackjacks enter British airspace.
A RAF spokesman said: "This is a live operation and therefore we will not be providing any additional information until the mission is complete."
Also Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4's scrambled for QRA-flight. Current position 100 NM northwest of The Netherlands. Both BAF F16's also in the area. #QRA #BAF #RAF pic.twitter.com/mmNhSIjtrn— Scannernet.nl (@Scannernet) January 15, 2018
Subsequently, French and Belgian air forces were reportedly also deployed to aid with the intercept. In a statement, the Belgian Air Force said on Twitter:
"Today, 2 #F16 @BeAirForce successfully intercepted 2 Russian TU-160 Blackjack bombers above the North Sea, within the Dutch area of responsability of #NATO airspace.
"Due to supersonic flight, the Belgian #F16 were able to complete their mission, guaranteeing your #Security."
The close encounter follows a string of incidents between the RAF and Russian air forces over the past months. In September last year, two Typhoons were sent to monitor Russian planes on course for Scotland in a similar episode.
Tensions between the west and Moscow have been frosty in recent months amid allegations Russia attempted to subvert democratic votes, including Britain's EU referendum and the 2016 US election. Russia has responded that it is the US and the west that has been "interfering everywhere", tries to influence others' elections, and that it is merely responding to a massive NATO build up next to its own borders.