Russia ‘jams signals’ on RAF plane carrying Grant Shapps

Russia is believed to have jammed the signal of an RAF plane carrying Grant Shapps in an electronic attack described as “wildly irresponsible”.

The GPS signal of the plane was said to have been interfered with for half an hour while it passed the Russian territory of Kaliningrad, which sits between Poland and Lithuania.

The defence secretary was aboard an RAF Dassault 900LX Falcon jet, named Envoy, on the way back from Poland on Wednesday when the attack took place. The aircraft’s flight path was visible to trackers.

The attack did not threaten the safety of the aircraft but left phones unable to connect to the plane’s WiFi. The plane was forced to use other navigation systems available to the pilots.

One defence source said: “While the RAF are well prepared to deal with this, it still puts an unnecessary risk on civilian aircraft and could potentially endanger people’s lives. There is no excuse for this and it’s wildly irresponsible on Russia’s part.”

Grant Shapps and Polish defence minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz talk to British and Polish troops on Wednesday (AFP via Getty)
Grant Shapps and Polish defence minister Wladyslaw Kosiniak-Kamysz talk to British and Polish troops on Wednesday (AFP via Getty)

Another source said it was “not unusual” for attacks of that nature to happen near Kaliningrad.

A Downing Street spokesperson confirmed the plane “experienced GPS jamming when they flew close to Kaliningrad”.

They added: “It didn’t threaten the safety of the aircraft and it is not unusual for aircraft to experience GPS jamming near Kaliningrad, which is of course Russian territory.”

Mr Shapps was returning from a visit to a military training site in Orzysz, northeast Poland, about 100 miles from Kaliningrad. He watched troops taking part in the Steadfast Defender, Nato’s largest military exercises since the Cold War. The exercises, taking place until May, involve around 90,000 troops from across the alliance, including UK forces.

During the trip to Poland, Mr Shapps hit out at Vladimir Putin’s “sabre-rattling” after the Russian leader used an interview with state media to claim that his nation was “ready” for nuclear war if the need arose. It is a threat that he has used repeatedly since invading Ukraine, with Western allies – including the UK – having rallied around Kyiv as it has defended itself. Mr Shapps called such rhetoric “irresponsible” and said that Mr Putin should “drive back east and get out of the democratic country he decided to invade two years ago”.

Mr Shapps has also called for UK military spending to increase to 3 per cent of GDP, saying in Poland: “I want a bigger budget.”

He said: “I have coined the phrase ‘moving from post-war to pre-war’. We have to be much better prepared.

“Defence is the best way to protect ourselves against a military conflict – you have to show your adversaries – so I am clearly in favour [of a 3 per cent target]. We live in a more dangerous world, we’ve got Putin on the frontline making gains.”

Grant Shapps  in Poland, where he hit out at Vladimir Putin (AFP via Getty)
Grant Shapps in Poland, where he hit out at Vladimir Putin (AFP via Getty)

That is a reference to gains Mr Putin’s forces have made in eastern Ukraine, with Kyiv’s troops being forced to withdraw from a number of towns and villages. Ukraine has called on Western allies to send more weapons and ammunition to combat shortages it is facing on the frontline – with delays to Western aid seen as part of the cause.

The US Congress has so far failed to pass fresh military aid funding for Ukraine, despite months of talks – with a group of congressional Democrats including the former House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi and armed services veterans urging the current Republican speaker, Mike Johnson, to “lead, follow or get out of the way” so that a package can be passed.

President Joe Biden has been clear that Congress needs to do its duty to pass billions of dollars in funds. On Tuesday, the White House announced that the US would send Ukraine aid worth $300m, which will come from savings on Pentagon contracts. The funds will be used for artillery munitions.

Research by the Royal United Services Institute in 2022 suggested that increasing UK defence spending to 3 per cent of GDP by 2030, as suggested by Liz Truss's government, would require £157bn in additional spending over the following eight years.

Mr Shapps’ call follows demands from security minister Tom Tugendhat and Foreign Office minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan that spending rise from 2.27 per cent of GDP to 2.5 per cent immediately.

Last week’s Budget contained no new money for defence despite concerns about the state of Britain’s armed forces and the government’s commitment to spend 2.5 per cent of GDP on the military “as soon as economic conditions allow”.

The Ministry of Defence has also announced that the UK will get 14 new Chinook helicopters. Mr Shapps announced the commitment to proceed with the contract, reversing a decision by his predecessor Ben Wallace to scrap the deal in a diplomatic spat over the £2.3bn price tag – £500m more than initial estimates. The price was negotiated down to £2bn. Mr Shapps said that Mr Wallace’s intervention had been helpful in bringing about that reduction.

Mr Shapps said: “Procuring these Chinook helicopters will mark a significant milestone in our efforts to modernise and enhance the agility of the UK armed forces, cementing our ability to respond at pace to situations and threats across the globe.

“The Chinook is one of our most iconic aircraft, having been operated in every major conflict since the Falklands War. Delivering on this deal not only enhances our capability, but will boost UK industry and skills.”

It is not the first time that British planes have faced likely jamming by Russia. In 2021, planes flying in and out of RAF Akrotiri on Cyprus were also thought to have had their GPS signals jammed by Moscow.

The aircraft affected were believed to have been F-35 and Typhoon fighter jets, A400M transport aircraft and Voyager troop planes. No serious incidents were reported at the time, but the signal was thought to have been coming from Syrian territory, where Russia has had a presence.

Poland and other nations in the Baltic region have also reported levels of GPS interference in recent months. The Institute for the Study of War think tank, which monitors the war in Ukraine, said in a report in January that areas of the north and east of Poland saw something similar on 10 January and 16 January, and areas of the south Baltic Sea on 25 December and 27 December.

With an increased use of drones from both Russia and Ukraine during Moscow’s invasion, electronic warfare such as jamming has taken on a greater importance.

Swedish military officer Joakim Paasikivi told the country’s SVT broadcaster: “I believe this is part of Russian influence activities or so-called hybrid warfare. This may be Russia’s way of sowing uncertainty.”