RAF specialists analysing a four-second signal transmitted from a Tupolev Tu-160 “Blackjack” bomber in the wake of an interception by RAF Typhoon fighters on Thursday believe that the crew at the very least carried out arming drills for a nuclear weapon when the RAF fighters approached them near UK airspace. The story broke when the Sunday Express newspaper revealed in a truly sensationalist article entitled How close we came to Armageddon: Russian bombers began to arm NUKE near UK airspace that analysts at RAF Boulmer, Britain’s Control and Reporting Centre, confirmed that the Russian bombers had begun the sequence to arm nuclear weapons.
There can be little doubt that the Russian pilots did indeed conduct an exercise in which they went through the drills of readying a nuclear weapon for an attack but it is highly unlikely that a real nuclear weapon was onboard. The Russian pilots engaged in testing NATO defences are not simply on a joyride across the West. They are running through all the drills and exercises of an actual mission and gaining experience of how NATO intercepts would be carried out against them so they can tailor their tactics accordingly. If it sounds sinister it must be remembered that the militaries of NATO do the same thing near Russia.
The Sunday Express article uses scare-mongering words to convey the message that the UK is under an immediate danger such as describing the flights as an “incursion” when in fact UK airspace was never once violated and the Russian aircraft operated perfectly legally in international airspace. There is also no evidence to suggest there were nuclear weapons onboard other than the fact the crew carried out a drill as if there was one although it does claim that a Tu-95 intercepted last year did have live nuclear weapons onboard.