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Almost two-thirds of UK’s air threats deemed to come from Russian violations of airspace

Two out of three instances where the UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF) has launched aircraft in the face of a perceived or real threat to UK airspace has been against Russian planes, an investigation by AOAV has established.

From 2018 to 31 July 2022, there were 51 days when the RAF launched Quick Reaction Alerts (QRA) in response to rogue aircraft approaches into UK airspace. 63% (32) of those launches were in response to Russian military aircraft; 39% (20) in response to other perceived threats.

RAF Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) launches against unidentified or unauthorised aircraft approaching UK airspace are considered an integral part of the UK’s air defence. Their primary function is deterrence. The RAF maintains a pool of QRA Typhoon FGR4 aircraft at readiness to intercept aircraft on the edge of UK airspace. Typhoons are an extremely agile, multi-role combat aircraft, used in all the RAF’s current operations. However, its most essential role remains the provision of QRA for UK airspace.

2021 was the only year where QRA launches in response to others outnumbered launches in response to Russian aircraft. In 2018, 78% of launches (7) were in response to Russian aircraft, followed by 57% (8) in 2019, 79% (11) in 2020, 40% (6) in 2021, and 50% (2) in 2022 so far.

2019 and 2020 saw both the highest number of QRA launches and the highest numbers of launches in response to Russian aircraft. In 2020, QRA was launched in response to Russian aircraft over 11 days, the highest number of launches in response to Russian aircraft between 2018 and 2022.