Round-the-clock NATO air patrols fly to keep Russia at bay
NATO has nearly doubled the number of military aircraft on alert across Europe, fearing that Russia’s reckless flights in international airspace will intensify alongside its war in Ukraine.
The alliance’s decision to constantly guard its eastern border highlights how quickly the security situation has evolved inside and outside Ukraine over the past 10 days, as well as the challenges of the most great test of NATO since its founding in 1949.
More than 60 NATO aircraft are on “high alert” at all times to await possible airspace violations, the alliance said in December. This grew to over 100 fighter jets now circling the skies in rotation.
A force of myriad fighter jets – like the US F-15s, F-16s and F-35s, as well as NATO Eurofighters – moved last week from sending planes as needed to escort uncooperative Russian pilots, to “actively defend Allied airspace”. NATO Allied Air Command spokesman Jonathan Bailey said on Friday.
“There have been stampedes in response to Russian air activity in international airspace where they are not complying with aviation safety regulations,” Bailey told Air Force Times. “We maintain 24/7 patrols in the skies along our eastern borders.”
Airpolice aircraft identify and deal with rogue aircraft, such as when Allied pilots intercept Russian military aircraft veering close to their airspace or if a civilian aircraft is unresponsive or hijacked. They are not allowed to shoot unless they are shot at while flying over a foreign country; most interdictions were uneventful and did not enter Allied airspace.
“Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, file a flight plan or communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential risk to civilian airliners,” he said. rated NATO in 2020.
As of February 26, the third day of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, NATO air policing assets had not interacted with Russian aircraft since the start of the war, Allied Air Command told the Air Force Times. This changed over the next seven days.
Yet Bailey noted that the transatlantic alliance has not intercepted more Russians than usual in recent months. He did not say how many, how often or where these incidents occur.
Russian pilots do not limit their bad behavior to NATO countries. Four Russian fighters entered Swedish airspace on Wednesday, prompting the Nordic country to send its own Gripen jets to see them out.
Two Su-27 and two Su-24 fighters violated Swedish airspace over the sea east of Gotland, an island off the east coast of Sweden, the army said. air of the country the same day. The event was “brief” and under control, the service said.
“With the current situation as a backdrop, we take this incident very seriously. Russia’s conduct is unprofessional and irresponsible,” said Swedish Air Force chief Major General Carl- Johan Edström, in a press release.
Like Ukraine, Sweden would likely miss out on direct military aid from the United States and much of Europe if Russia made matters worse. He did not officially join NATO, preferring to maintain official neutrality.
Repelling Russian aggression in the air has taken on a darker tone than usual for NATO and its neighbors as Ukraine burns alongside.
“NATO fighter jets flew across Europe approximately 370 times in 2021, primarily to control planes flying out of the blue at near-allied airspeed,” the alliance said in a press release. December 28. “About 80% of the missions, 290 in total, were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft.”
Most of these cases have occurred in the Baltic countries, over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where the alliance has carried out air policing missions since 2004, NATO said. An interception can involve any number of aircraft.
This level of sky policing operations was lower than in 2020, but generally comparable to recent years. NATO forces rushed more than 400 times in 2020, including about 350 in response to Russian flights – a “moderate increase” from 2019, the alliance said.
“NATO is vigilant and we will always do what it takes to protect and defend all allies,” spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said in December.
Rachel Cohen joined Air Force Times as a senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in Air Force Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy, The Frederick News-Post (Md.), The Washington Post, and others. .