The RAF has sent its entire fleet of spy planes to eastern Europe following an increase of military tensions with Russia.
The decision to send all of the RAF’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance aircraft to the Baltic followed Moscow deploying missiles to the Russian-controlled enclave of Kaliningrad, just across the border from Poland and Lithuania.
The move was branded as “not just a threat to Lithuania but to half of all Europe” by Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite.
The deploying of the 300-mile range Iskander missile system gives cause for concern for NATO chiefs, as some see it as a sign that Russia may be preparing to move forces into the Baltic States in a repeat of its incursion into Ukraine in 2014.
Moscow has also deployed state of the art Sukhoi SU-57 stealth jets and an additional 5,000 troops in what it terms a “routine exercise”.
In January two Russian Blackjack bombers were intercepted by Typhoon jets from RAF Lossiemouth over the North Sea as they were approaching the UK.
Britain is part of a wider NATO mission in the region, called Operation Enhanced Forward Presence, to support Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland and Romania amid fears President Putin is waiting for the right moment to seize back parts of the former eastern bloc.
The RAF planes are working with other Nato partners to track troop movements and the missiles systems and determine how many have been deployed and their exact locations.
More than 1,000 troops, including soldiers from the Royal Welsh Regiment and the Queen’s Dragoon Guards as well as 600 RAF aircrew and support personnel, are based across Estonia, Poland and Romania.
The RAF now has five spy planes in the region including a RC-135 Rivet Joint which can eavesdrop on ground and aviation communications chatter as it sits high in the sky.
The capabilities provided by Rivet Joint, as well as the AWACS-carrying Sentry and Sentinel planes, include monitoring troop movement, tracking vehicles and intercepting and jamming communications.
However senior RAF sources admit the deployment stretches resources, with all ISR aircraft capabilities now removed from Syria, where they were used to monitor ground threats to British Tornado and Typhoon aircraft.