British fighter jets based in Cyprus as part of a mission to counter Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have instead been flying in the Black Sea region amid tensions with Russia, Sky News understands.
A military source said the Royal Air Force Typhoons, supported by a Voyager refuelling tanker aircraft, were deployed on Friday because of a Russian military exercise in the area.
The source said they were operating with a number of US B52 bombers, which flew from an airbase in the UK where they are stationed.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: “We can confirm RAF Typhoons have been operating in the Black Sea region.
“The sortie demonstrates the UK’s ability to support ongoing cooperation with allies and partners in the region which deepens relationships and regional security.”
Russia on Friday said it scrambled eight fighter jets to intercept three US B-52 strategic bombers flying over the Black Sea.
A Twitter account that tracks the movement of military aircraft and warships tweeted about a Typhoon jet that flew from RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus to Ukraine.
“RAF Typhoon ZK301 which is usually based at RAF Akrotiri has been sent up over the Black Sea area & now over Ukraine,” said @air_intel
The Typhoon and Voyager aircraft are deployed in Cyprus as part of Operation Shader – the name of the UK contribution to a US-led coalition against Islamic State.
The fast jets fly sorties over Iraq and Syria, conducting surveillance and – when needed – launching air strikes.
But that mission has become a lot quieter in recent months following the collapse of the physical IS caliphate in March 2019.
It is not clear if the diversion of the aircraft to the Black Sea from their counter IS mission is a one-off or the start of a longer-term diversification of tasks.
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