In 2020, the NATO-allied air forces in Europe scrambled around 350 times to intercept Russian military aircraft approaching the alliance’s airspace – including 48 times by the NATO jets based at Estonia’s Ämari Air Base.
The NATO headquarters said in a statement that the alliance’s aircraft were scrambled more than 400 times to intercept unknown aircraft approaching alliance airspace; around 350 were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft.
“This is a moderate increase from 2019. Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, do not file a flight plan, or do not communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential risk to civilian airliners,” the alliance said.
“We are always vigilant. NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to scramble in case of suspicious or unannounced flights near the airspace of our allies. Air policing is an important way in which NATO provides security for our members,” Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson, said in a statement.
About 60 NATO jets on duty 24/7
Across Europe, some 40 air surveillance radars and reporting hubs, and about 60 NATO jets are on duty around the clock to serve as a quick-response force for aircraft that fall into distress or defy international flying rules near alliance airspace.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not have an airborne air defence capability of their own. Therefore, the protection is provided by NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission whereby more powerful allies deploy their jets to Baltic states in intervals usually lasting half a year.
Since the mission’s establishment in 2004, Belgium, Denmark, the UK, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, the US, Poland, Turkey, Spain, France, Romania, Portugal, the Czech Republic, Canada, Italy and Hungary have deployed their aircraft to either Estonia’s Ämari or Lithuania’s Šiauliai air bases.
Cover: A Royal Air Force (RAF) Typhoon fighter jet operating from Ämari Air Base in Estonia intercepting a Russian IL-76 military transport aircraft that was flying close to Estonian airspace. Photo by RAF.