Britain 'at mercy' of Putin in a war against Russia, former defence chiefs warn

Russian aircraft have been flying near Britain's airspace

Former defence chiefs have questioned whether the UK’s air defences would be adequate in the event of a conflict with Russia.

The warning comes days after RAF jets were scrambled to intercept two Russian strategic bombers flying in international airspace off the coast of Cornwall.

Sir Michael Graydon, a former chief of the air staff, told The Times newspaper: “They have got us more or less at their mercy. We only have two bases where we have got Typoons. One is in Scotland, one is in Lincolnshire. "The guys in Lincolnshire were having to go all the way down to Cornwall just to get anywhere near."

Air Commodore Andrew Lambert, formerly the RAF’s director of defence studies, told the Daily Mail that the Royal Air Force would likely be overwhelmed by sheer numbers in the event of a Russian attack despite having state of the art technology.

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The Wednesday incident led to two Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft taking off from RAF Coningsby in Lincolnshire and escorting the Russian planes.

The Tupolev Tu-95 ‘Bear’ bombers are generally used as maritime patrol aircraft but can be adapted to be used as cruise missile platform.

Sir Michael explained that the flights by the Russian aircraft were designed to test Britain’s air defence response and that the country’s military commanders would have “probably worked out we are not as sharp as we were”.

Nato chiefs also claim Russia has stepped up air patrols over the Baltic sea.

David Cameron dismissed the incident, saying yesterday: “I suspect what’s happening here is the Russians are trying to make some sort of a point, and I don’t think we should dignify it with too much of a response.”

But Russia's deputy foreign minister responded angrily to claims by Defence Secretary Michael Fallon yesterday that the country posed a “real and present danger” to the three Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.

Alexander Lukashevich said the comments were “beyond diplomatic ethics”.

According to a 2013 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, Britain spends 2.4% of its GDP on defence, while Russia spends 3.1%. China spends 1.2% and the United States spends 3.7%.

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