Close Encounters: Russian Military Activities in the Vicinity of UK Air and Sea Space, 2005-2016

By Dr Andrew Foxall

The true scale of the Russian military’s activities around UK territory is made clear for the first time, in a comprehensive report from The Henry Jackson Society’s Russia Studies Centre.

The report lists and categorises every open-source incident reported by the press or acknowledged by the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

The research reveals:

  • From 2005 to 2016, the RAF’s Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) aircraft were scrambled on a total of 101 days in response to Russian military aircraft.
  • How Russia is seeking valuable information about sensitive UK defence capabilities – including the “acoustic signature” made by Trident submarines and the sensitivity of the UK’s early warning systems
  • In 2016 alone, the QRA was launched on five days. In 2017, the QRA has been launched twice thus far.
  • NATO air scrambles, in Europe, almost doubled between 2014 and 2016
  • Options for UK Government action, including wider bilateral agreements with Russia

Dr Julian Lewis, Chair of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee, commentating on the report, said: “Drawing on media reports and such official statistics as are available, Dr Foxall paints a worrying picture of the revival of Cold War Russian habits of probing our defences by sea and, especially, by air.

“Between 1992 and 2007, these incidents had all but ceased. Now they occur quite regularly, with notable increases in times of tension. For NATO as a whole, Quick Reaction Alert ‘scrambles’ to deal with approaching Russian aircraft almost doubled (from 400 to 780 incidents) between 2014 and 2016. Dr Foxall’s recommendation to negotiate a UK-Russia. Agreement on Preventing Dangerous Military Activities (DMA) is in everyone’s interest. It would build on similar agreements between Russia, the USA and Canada, and should be acted upon by the British Government.”

Dr Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russian Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society, and author of the report said: “There is a troubling picture of close encounters and emergency scrambles perpetuated by an aggressive Russian government. Although the UK government are taking the threat seriously, there are some immediate actions it could take.

“These Russian activities are best understood not in isolation, but rather as a part of the Kremlin’s increasingly assertive foreign policy toward the West.”

To read the full report, click here.


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