Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, former commanding general of US Army Europe, says Russia is attempting to map the contours of the radar coverage in the GIUK gap.
Retired Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges, the former commanding general of United States Army Europe from 2014 to 2017, told The Irish Times that recent flights by Russian bombers suggest the Kremlin is mapping gaps in NATO’s radar coverage.
According to Hodges in fact, Russia is flying bombers into Irish-controlled airspace to test response times by the RAF and other NATO airforces and to “map” radar coverage, trying to pick at “a seam” that has developed between the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit.
Last week two RAF Typhoon fighter jets were promptly scrambled to intercept two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bombers that entered international airspace controlled by the Irish Aviation Authority off Ireland’s west coast on two occasions.
It was reported last Friday that, on a third flight mission in six days, two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic strategic bombers flew around the northern coast of Scotland and south along the west coast of Ireland before turning for home in the Bay of Biscay.
Hodges says Russia is attempting to map the contours of the radar coverage in the Greenland-Iceland-U.K. (GIUK) gap.
Ireland’s status as a non-NATO country could be seen by Russia as “a seam that could be exploited”, he added.
“They are testing response times and techniques. They do this all around the Black Sea as well as up in the Atlantic and in the Baltic region,” Hodges pointed out.
He expects the Russians to “continue testing to see how we respond, to continue to do reconnaissance, to map out the contours of what the radar coverage is and what can we do. This all goes into their big data effort to use for a rainy day.”
The former officer in command put the expansion of the Russian embassy in Rathgar, south Dublin, down to the Kremlin’s same strategic interest because this could be part of Russia’s strategy to exploit areas that undermine the cohesion of institutions such as the European Union and NATO.
Commercial and private flights over the Atlantic had to be warned about last week’s flights as the Russian military aircraft were “unscheduled” and flying without making contact with air traffic controllers, the Department of Transport said.
“They are doing this without their transponders turned on which is incredibly dangerous and reckless,” Hodges explained.
Instead according to Victoria Loginova, spokeswoman for the Russian embassy in Dublin, the bombers were carrying out routine training missions and these were conducted “in strict accordance to all ICAO [International Civil Aviation Organisation] rules and regulations.”