VILNIUS, Oct 9 (LETA–BNS) – NATO fighter aircraft conducting the NATO air-policing mission in the Baltic states were scrambled once from Lithuania last week to intercept military aircraft of the Russian Federation in the international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
On Oct. 2, NATO fighter-jets were scrambled to intercept an IL-20 and an IL-76 flying from mainland Russia to the Kaliningrad region, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said.
The aircraft had pre-filed flight plans, had their onboard transponders on and maintained radio communication with the regional flight control center.
The NATO air-policing mission is conducted from Lithuania and Estonia.
VILNIUS, Oct 02 (LETA–BNS) – NATO fighter-jets patrolling Baltic airspace were scrambled twice last week to intercept Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on Monday.
The Alliance’s jets took off last Monday to intercept a Tu-134 plane flying from Kaliningrad to mainland Russia according to a flight plan, with its on-board transponder switched on and in radio contact with the air traffic control centre.
An Il-76 plane was intercepted on Tuesday on its way from Kaliningrad to mainland Russia. The aircraft had a flight plan and kept radio contact with air traffic controllers, but its on-board transponder was off.
TALLINN, Oct 02, BNS – Belgian F-16 fighter jets stationed at the Amari air base in northwestern Estonia as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission will perform training flights in Estonian airspace from Monday to Friday.
The aircraft are to fly over Estonia in areas of low-altitude flying, at an altitude of at least 152 meters and preferably away from populated areas, spokespeople for the Estonian defense forces told BNS.
NATO member states allocate specific areas of their air space for the training and exercises of the air force, including low-altitude flights. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also allocated specific regions of their air space for low-altitude flying. The flights are performed in agreement with the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and Estonian Air Navigation Services.
By a decision of the North Atlantic Council, the air forces of NATO member states have been taking turns to perform the air policing mission in the air space of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since March 2004, when the three Baltic countries joined the NATO.
The Baltic air policing mission is part of the NATO Smart Defense concept, the aim of which is to save the resources of the member states of the alliance by contributing together to different capabilities.
A contingent of the Belgian Air Force took over the Baltic air policing duties performed out of Amari, Estonia on Sept. 5. At present the Baltic air policing mission is performed by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighter jets deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, and Belgian F-16s at Amari, Estonia.
LIELVARDE, Latvia – Media representatives from Latvian TV stations and Baltic news services visited the NATO deployment exercise Ramstein Dust-II 2017 on Wednesday, September 27, 2017, for an update.
The exercise director, German Air Force Colonel Klaus Nolte, welcomed several media representatives at Lielvarde Air Base to explain the role and mission of his international exercise team. NATO’s deployable air surveillance and control unit, located in its home garrison at Poggio Renatico, Italy, moved to the Latvian air base at the end of August and integrated into the Baltic Air Surveillance and Control Network as an additional asset.
“This second deployment of my team to Lielvarde after 2015 has been a major success so far,” said Colonel Nolte to the media. “I am proud of my specialists who demonstrated and honed their excellent skills. Deployment and readiness exercise are essential to verify we are operational and ready whenever and wherever needed.”
According to the Colonel all elements of the deployable NATO air surveillance and control unit acted as one. “Whether they operate the control screens, ensure communications and connections are working, keep the power up and running, prepare the containers for deployment and redeployment – each and every one of them provides a key contribution to demonstrating NATO is capable and credible in its commitment especially here in the Baltic region,” Colonel Nolte added.
The highlight for the media was the flyby of two United States Air Force F-15 fighter jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Policing at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Their missions were also controlled by the deployed NATO unit during the last three weeks ensuring they operate safely in support of other Allied forces operating in the region.
VILNIUS, Sept 25 (LETA–BNS) – NATO fighter-jets patrolling Baltic airspace were scrambled nine times last week to intercept Russian military aircraft in international airspace over the Baltic Sea, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said on Monday.
The biggest number of scrambles took place last Wednesday when the Alliance’s jets took off several times to intercept Tu-22 bombers and Su-27 fighter-jets. Officially, it was the final day of the Russia-Belarus military exercise Zapad 2017.
The Russian aircraft had no flight plans, did not maintain radio contact with the regional air traffic control centre and had their automatic transponders switched off.
According to the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, NATO’s fighters were scrambled daily on Tuesday through Friday.
TALLINN, Sep 25, BNS – Belgian F-16 fighter jets stationed at the Amari air base in northwestern Estonia as part of NATO’s Baltic air policing mission will perform training flights in Estonian airspace from Monday to Friday.
The aircraft are to fly over Estonia in areas of low-altitude flights and will do so at an altitude of at least 152 meters and preferably away from populated areas, headquarters of the Estonian defense forces told BNS.
NATO member states allocate specific areas of their air space for the training and exercises of the air force, including low-altitude flights. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have also allocated specific regions of their air space for carrying out low-altitude flights. The flights are performed in agreement with the Estonian Civil Aviation Administration and the air traffic service.
According to a decision of NATO, air forces of NATO member states based on rotation participate in the air policing mission of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian air space since March 2004, when the Baltic countries joined the NATO. The Baltic air policing mission is part of the NATO Smart Defense concept, the aim of which is to save the resources of the member states of the alliance by contributing together to different capabilities.
A contingent of the Belgian Air Force took over the Baltic air policing mission from the Spanish Air Force on Sept. 5. At present the Baltic air policing mission is led by U.S. Air Force F-15 fighters deployed to Siauliai, Lithuania, and the Belgian F-16s in Amari, Estonia.
TALLINN, Estonia – Allied aircraft are scheduled to conduct the routine live-fly exercise Ramstein Alloy 6 on September 26 and 27 in the Baltic skies.
On both days, military fighter and support aircraft from Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, the United States and a NATO AWACS will take off from air bases Ämari, Estonia, Siauliai, Lithuania and home bases in Poland and Germany to practice standard routines and procedures. The drills include several scenarios that provide realistic training for NATO Air Policing activities over the Baltic States.
In simulated missions, Allied fast jets will have to locate and intercept a slow moving aircraft or an aircraft that lost radio communications with civilian Air traffic Control agencies. Other missions include air-to-air refuelling by German and United States tanker aircraft.
The two-day event is overseen by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, while mission control will be provided by an AWACS, the Baltic Control and Reporting Centre at Karmelava, Lithuania, the Control and Reporting Point at Ämari, Estonia, and elements of the NATO DARS* presently deployed at Lielvarde, Latvia.
Planned aerial training is mostly conducted in altitudes above 20,000 feet or 6,000 m, not visible from the ground, and is subject to changes due to unforeseen developments.
The Ramstein Alloy exercise series builds on experience from its predecessor series that started in 2008. Regularly scheduled three times a year, it is a routine training event aimed at further honing skills of highly capable and flexible aircrews and controllers in the field of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.
The 493d Fighter Squadron (493 FS), nicknamed “The Grim Reapers”, is part of the United States Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing located at RAF Lakenheath, England. The 493d Fighter Squadron is currently the only USAF squadron flying the F-15C Eagle within the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Major Command and has been flying the F-15C since 1994. These 493d F-15C fighter aircraft are affixed with modern weaponry systems specifically designed to locate and target enemy aircraft and include the AIM-9 and AIM-120 air-to-air missiles.
The 493d provides Air-to-Air offensive and defensive support missions for United States and NATO operations. The squadron has earned multiple commendations and awards, including the Air Force Association’s Hughes Trophy in 1997 and 1999 and the 2014 Raytheon Trophy, being recognized as the top fighter squadron in the United States Air Force.
In 2015, the squadron was named the best fighter squadron in the Air Force, earning the Raytheon Trophy for 2014. During tensions in the Ukraine that threatened stability in Eastern Europe, the 493d deployed to Lithuania in less than 20 hours, to supplement the Baltic Air Policing mission. The squadron intercepted 31 Russian air force aircraft when they threatened or violated Baltic airspace. This deployment came while the squadron was simultaneously supporting a deployment to Iceland. “The squadron ‘adopted’ an orphanage in Lithuania, with airmen visiting and caring for kids for four months. The Raytheon award was the fourth for the squadron.
The U.S. Air Force deployed F-15C Eagles, Airmen and associated equipment from the 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath, U.K., to support the NATO Baltic Air Policing rotation at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania. The handover ceremonytook place at the Air Base of the Lithuanian Armed Forces in Šiauliai on 30 August 2017,where Poland handed over the lead of the mission to the United States Air Force.
NATO air policing is a peacetime collective defense mission, safeguarding the integrity of the NATO alliance members’ airspace. Baltic air policing is part of NATO’s “Smart Defense” model, which incorporates allied nations, conducting operations through shared capabilities and coordinated efforts to effectively accomplish missions.
“We know that all of NATO stands alongside us in defense of our shared values and principles,” said Vytautas Umbrasas, Lithuania’s vice defense minister.
“I speak on behalf of every U.S. airman here, when I say that it is our honor to protect and defend the sovereignty of the Baltic borders,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS detachment commander. The 493rd EFS is slated to continue its current rotation through the end of 2017.
Thanks to the contribution of the NATO allies the security of the Baltic Sea region is currently stable, but air defense is a critical capability gap, Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said at the influential CEPA 2017 conference in Washington.
“Together with our allies, we are currently able to create a deterrence capability that would deter any potential opponent,” Luik said in his speech. “At the same time, it is incorrect to claim that everything has already been done to protect NATO’s eastern wing. We must continue to look at what else needs to be done to protect ourselves along with our allies,” he added.
Luik stressed that the topic of allied presence must continue since all is far from being done. “A critical capability gap is air defense, including the development of mid- and long-range air defense solutions,” he said.
He also emphasized that important support pillars in NATO’s deterrence capability are allied expenditures of at least 2 percent of GDP on national defense and the continuing contribution by the United States to the security of Europe.
“The 2 percent rate must be the threshold for minimum effort by all allies. Meeting this rate sends a positive message regarding the strength of the NATO alliance and at the same time ensures the development of allied military forces,” Luik said.
According to Luik nothing can replace the role of the United States in maintaining deterrence capability in Europe, since the United States is capable of offering forces, as well as logistical and material support.
“The United States continue to send signals at the political and practical level that they remain dedicated to the defense of Europe. A strong message was sent with the Senate’s approval of the new defense budget, in which Europe’s deterrence initiative EDI is provided with substantial additional funding,” Luik said.
Luik participated in the panel discussion “Reforming NATO for the 21st Century” together with the Minister of Defense for Poland, the Deputy Minister of Defense for the Czech Republic, the State Secretary of the Latvian Ministry of Defense, and Commander, U.S. Army Europe, Lt. Gen. Ben Hodges.
The CEPA Forum is the largest annual conference dedicated to topics involving Central Europe.
NATO has said it is not expecting a major increase in Russian air activity during the country’s Zapad military exercises. However, the alliance has accused Moscow of not “playing by the rules” on the ground.
From a Baltic point of view, when NATO’s second-highest military commander in Europe says he expects the Zapad 2017 exercises to be a “pattern of normal Russian activity,” it’s not exactly reassuring. Frequent buzzing of allied and international airspace by Russian aircraft is one reason there’s a regular rotation of NATO Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) planes in the sky over the alliance’s northeastern border. Deputy Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, British Gen. Sir James Everard, was aboard the first one in the air on Zapad’s opening day, and DW’s Teri Schultz was invited along for the ride.
‘Status quo’ expected for Zapad air activity
Speaking with DW aboard the AWACS plane that flew from its Geilenkirchen base in western Germany to its Latvian mission, Everard clarified that he means he’s not anticipating a spike in Russian warplanes buzzing NATO airspace or performing provocative maneuvers over the Baltic states. That said, the existing level of engagement means there are already incidents every week of Russian planes flying near or occasionally into Baltic airspace, often with transponders off and no contact with air traffic controllers on the ground.
During the almost four-hour surveillance mission, there were two suspicious aircraft spotted by the specialists aboard. They transmitted the location to counterparts on the ground, who “scrambled” into the air to identify the aircraft and put the pilots on notice that they were being tracked by NATO.
German Air Force Lt. Col. Alex Herrmann, the mission’s technical director, said he couldn’t reveal any information that had been gained from the scramble. Herrmann, who’s been flying AWACS for almost 20 years, also sought to ratchet down tension over Russian activities even as he notes the number of AWACS flights has steadily grown over his tenure. Herrmann compared the surveillance flights with police checking for speeders on the road. “This is a question of making it safe in the air,” he explained. “Right now we are living in peacetime; there’s no hostile flying around – it’s just ‘neutral’ or ‘friendly’ or ‘of interest to us.'”
US provides pre-Zapad boost to Baltic air patrol
Nevertheless, the US has boosted its “police” force in anticipation of Zapad. Late last month, leadership of the “Baltic Air Policing” mission, which provides cover for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, rotated to the US and Belgium. The US, replacing Poland, decided to increase its fleet to seven F-15s over the four jets Poland used in the previous period. US Army Gen. Ben Hodges, commander of American forces in Europe, told DW recently that this boost would be the only US ramp-up due to Zapad.
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics agrees with Everard that Russia won’t likely launch any direct military aggression, but he doesn’t rule out other destabilizing activities.
Everard: Zapad forces highest in 36 years
While portraying the calm, unrattled exterior NATO is seeking to project during Zapad 2017, Everard conveys there hasn’t been such a huge massing of Russian troops in more than three decades, since deep in the Cold War days. “You’d have to go back to 1981 to see one the scale of this particular exercise,” Everard said, revealing more than mere skepticism about the figure of “12,700” given out by Moscow.
So what “scale” is that? Even the AWACS can’t tell, as it detects aircraft within 400 kilometers (250 miles) of airspace in all directions, but can’t view objects on the ground, which is where open-source reporting is disputing Kremlin claims of a modest-sized exercise. Self-designated observers are tracking and publicizing Russian troop movements on Twitter.
“If very close to those [reportedly 12,700] troops, several thousand more troops are exercising, it doesn’t look very honest or transparent,” Everard said, hypothesizing about Russia’s official scenario. “One of our regrets is the fact that Russia hasn’t played by the rules.” He said NATO has “bent over backwards” to be transparent about its own drills.
And despite Moscow’s obfuscation, Everard believes with the AWACS above and what he calls a “very comprehensive intelligence platform” elsewhere, “we have a good handle on what the Russians are doing.” At the same time, he acknowledged, “I know people are scared and that’s a concern.”
Many observers say that’s a military success for Moscow already.