USAF plane flying over Newry stirs concerns about Russian naval exercise off Irish coast

The sight of a huge and noisy USAF aircraft flying over Newry this week sparked discussion locally as to whether the sighting was linked to planned Russian naval exercises off the Co Cork coast next week.

Locals noted a distinctive rumble as the C130 Hercules passed overhead, after amateur photographer Mark McLaughin posted his photo of the craft on local news website www.Newry. ie.

The website noted it had gone “out of its way to look over beautiful Newry” as the website confirmed that it had flown from Aldergove to Newry and then veered sharply west.

Commenters to the website reported that it had gone on to fly over Forkhill and Monaghan.

The USAF C130 was spotted over Newry this week, sparking questions about whether it might be linked to a planned Russian Navy exercise off the Cork coast next week. Photo: Mark McLoughlin.

There was intense speculation on Facebook that the flight might have had something to do with planned Russian Naval exercise off the Co Cork coast next week.

However, that was soon put to bed. According to the aircraft, callsign RCH301, was spotted over Canada later on Monday and landed at a USAF reserve air base near Atlanta in the US on Tuesday, identifying it as belonging to the USAF Air Mobility Command.

This division of the USAF provides “global air mobility” providing humanitarian support and airlifts and aerial refueling for US armed forces.

Retired Col Philip Ingram, a former intelligence and planning officer with NATO, told the News Letter the aircraft was not linked to Russian activity.

“Many USAF Aircraft transiting the Atlantic fly over Northern Ireland and it is not unusual for them to stop at Aldergrove or more often they transit over the Republic and sometime stop at Shannon Airport in the Republic,” he said.

Former Royal Navy submarine commander Steve Aiken agreed. “It’s a transport aircraft,” he said. “Maritime surveillance would be done by a P-8 aircraft.”

There were no suggestions as to why the aircraft took a detour from Aldergorve to Newry before heading out over the Atlantic.

However, the public reaction shows how the Russian exercise may be having its intended affect of provoking public concern.

Yesterday Irish fishermen were given a guarantee by Russia’s ambassador to the Republic that their fishing off the Cork coast will not be affected by the Russian naval artillery exercises.

Brendan Byrne, CEO of the Irish Fish Processors and Exporters Association, said it was a very beneficial meeting.

“There’ll be a clear understanding of who’s going to be where, so that both parties know there’s going to be a buffer zone.

“This is the significant part. There’s an absolute guarantee that our traditional fishing grounds will not will not be impacted by the Russian naval exercises.”

In 2016 the US government hit back after Sinn Fein criticised the presence of its air force in the Province, saying that its military planes comply fully with all UK laws.

The issue arose after Sinn Fein’s Declan Kearney raised objections that US military aircraft were passing through Belfast International Airport. A Belfast US Consulate spokesman responded by saying its activity was completely lawful and was conducted with the full permission of the UK government. Asked about the purpose of the C130 flying over Newry yesterday, the US Consulate in Belfast pointed to the guidance it issued in response to Sinn Fein in 2016.

Today, Russia’s leading diplomat has said today that Moscow will not start a war in Ukraine but warned that it will not allow the West to “trample on” its security interests.

US President Joe Biden warned Ukraine’s president on Thursday that there is a “distinct possibility” that Russia could take military action against its neighbour next month.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov responded on Friday: “There won’t be a war as far as it depends on the Russian Federation, we don’t want a war.

“But we won’t let our interests be rudely trampled on and ignored.”

Tensions have soared in recent weeks, and the US and its Nato allies worry that the concentration of about 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine heralds Moscow’s intention to attack the ex-Soviet state.

Russia has repeatedly denied having such plans, but has demanded that Nato promises Ukraine will never be allowed to join and that the alliance rolls back deployments of troops and military equipment in eastern Europe.

The US and Nato formally rejected those demands this week, although Washington outlined areas where discussions are possible, perhaps offering a path to de-escalation.

Russia’s official response to those proposals — and the ultimate decision over whether to invade — rests with President Vladimir Putin, but the Kremlin has sounded a grim note so far, saying there is “little ground for optimism”.

Mr Lavrov said the US suggested the two sides could talk about limits on the deployment of intermediate-range missiles, restrictions on military drills and rules to prevent accidents between warships and aircraft.

He said Moscow proposed discussing those issues years ago, but Washington and its allies never took them up on it until now.


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Ben Lowry