In a massive display of joint military readiness, allied fighters in NATO's Baltic air policing mission recently conducted a mock interception exercise involving two B-52 strategic bombers from the US Air Force's Bomber Task Force.
We point out that NATO Air Policing is a peacetime mission aimed at maintaining the security of the Alliance's airspace. It is a collective project and involves the continuous presence – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – of fighter aircraft and crews, which are ready to react quickly to possible airspace violations.
NATO has also been protecting the Baltic skies since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance.
The capability for the missio n to the Baltic States was created by the deployment of NATO fighter aircraft at Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. Since 2014, NATO has also been using Amari Air Base in Estonia to deploy additional air policing assets.
On July 24, the Royal Air Force took to Twitter to share details of the exercise, accompanied by a series of stunning photos capturing the event.
After the American bombers were intercepted, the fighters provided escort for the B-52s as they traveled south-southwest toward western Europe.
Despite the RAF's tweet mentioning only the involvement of Typhoons, the accompanying photos show the participation of French Rafale fighters in the interception of two USAF B-52 strategic bombers. In addition, a French A300 MRTT flying tanker also participated in the exercise.
Amid escalating tensions following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the French Air Force has been actively participating in NATO's increased deployment initiative known as "NATO-Air Armour".
On February 24, 2022, hours after Russia invaded Ukraine, France took immediate action by deploying two Rafale fighter jets to Poland as part of NATO's Enhanced Vigilance Activities (EVA) mission.
In addition, NATO announced that the French Rafales, deployed in Lithuania since December 2022, have been actively involved in the enhanced Air Force mission.
As part of their deployment, French aircraft conducted joint training exercises with Sweden, further strengthening cooperation between the allied nations. Throughout this deployment, the French squadron conducted multiple interceptions of aircraft near Allied territory.
NATO's Baltic Aviation Policing Mission
According to NATO, the Baltic Air Mission operates on a well-structured four-month rotational basis, with allied nations deploying their forces in rotation at air bases in Lithuania and Estonia.
Forces stationed at these bases remain on high alert, ready to take off quickly, under the direction of NATO's Combined Air Operations Center in Uedem, Germany.
In 2014, NATO took additional steps to reassure its Eastern Allies. As part of these efforts, a second Air Police presence was established at Amari Air Base in Estonia.
Fighter jets assigned to NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission frequently launch missions to visually identify Russian aircraft.
The frequency of flying activity of the Russian Air Force is mainly influenced by the geographical situation of the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, leading to regular flights between mainland Russia and Kaliningrad and vice versa.
However, allied countries have raised concerns about the behavior of some Russian aircraft, accusing them of often approaching or flying close to NATO airspace without using transponders, communicating with air traffic controllers or filing proper flight plans.
Therefore, the recent exercise demonstrates the readiness of allied forces to quickly respond and deter the Russian Air Force, while effectively monitoring the airspace of the Baltic countries.