NATO jets scrambled 290 times due to Russian planes

Most of the NATO intercepts in 2021 occurred in the Baltic region, where the North Atlantic Treaty Organization operates an air-policing mission for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; the alliance’s jets scrambled 290 times due to Russian planes.

NATO fighter jets scrambled around 370 times across Europe in 2021, mostly to check aircraft flying unannounced near allied air space, the organisation said on 28 December.

Around 80 per cent of the missions, 290 in total, were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft and most of the intercepts occurred in the Baltic region, where NATO operates an air-policing mission for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

A Danish F-16 (right), based in Lithuania, intercepting a Russian military plane in 2021. Photo by the Allied Air Command.

NATO has similar missions for Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia and it also helps police the skies of Romania, Bulgaria and Iceland.

“Generally, intercepts occurred without incident as NATO planes take off to identify the approaching aircraft and escort it out of the area. Very few intercepted flights entered allied airspace,” NATO said.

Sixty NATO jets always on high alert

“NATO is vigilant, and we will always do what it takes to protect and defend all allies,” Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson, said in a statement.

Across Europe, over 60 NATO jets are always on high alert, ready to respond to unannounced military flights, as well as to civilian aircraft losing communication with air-traffic controllers for any reason – which could range from technical problems to hijacking.

NATO has two air operations centres – one in Germany, covering northern Europe, and one in Spain covering the south – which monitor all air movements across Europe.

Protecting from Estonia’s Ämari Air Base

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, formed in 1949, is in an intergovernmental military alliance between 27 European countries, the US, Canada and Turkey. Its biggest members by defence expenditure are the US, the UK, Germany, France and Italy.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004 and since the three countries do not have an airborne air defence capability of their own, 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.

An F-35A Lightning II jet of the Italian Air Force at the Ämari Air Base in Estonia. Photo by Estonian Defence Forces.

Since the mission’s establishment, 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 Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon, based in Lithuania, intercepting a Russian military aircraft in 2021. Photo by the Allied Air Command.

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