Is joining the Air Force dangerous?

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Sofia / Brussels.Moscow on course for confrontation? Russian military aircraft are said to have come dangerously close to or violated NATO airspace almost 300 times in the past year. That figure was recently shared with the news company by an alliance representative Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE / RL) With. The NATO employee, who wants to remain anonymous, contacted the broadcaster's international office in the Bulgarian capital Sofia. Ivan Bedrov, head of the Sofia office, comes because of the information in his RFE / RL- Contribution to the conclusion: "Apparently we have been experiencing an alarming increase in critical encounters between NATO combat aircraft and Russian military aircraft for a long time." And the trend is rising! ...

In 2019, the news channel reported that Allied aircraft ascended 290 times to escort or shadow Russian military aircraft “across Europe”. In particular, the activities of the Russian Air Force in the Black Sea region have risen sharply since 2014.

Just a few days ago, a total of five NATO aircraft from the Black Sea neighbors Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey took off to control two Russian strategic long-range Tu-22 bombers and two accompanying Su-27 fighter jets. The four machines approached the common airspace of the three NATO countries in a western part of the Black Sea. According to information from the Bulgarian military, the alarm went off without incident, and the Russian planes returned to their national airspace after a while.

Russian activities have increased significantly since the annexation of Crimea

Bulgaria's Defense Minister Krasimir Karakachanov told RFE / RL: “Moscow deliberately carries out such flights in our region and adheres to international regulations. But the Russian Air Force does this regularly. They test our military skills and want to see how we react, whether our systems can detect your aircraft in good time and how quickly we can send our own aircraft. "

In the online presence of sputnik, the Russian news agency with global operations, a report on February 19 described the “blueprint” of such military operations. We learn in the article “Patrol operations over the Black Sea”: “Two supersonic Tu-22M3 bombers of the Russian Air Force have flown patrol flights over the Black Sea. This was announced by the Ministry of Defense of Russia [...]. In the course of five hours, the machines would have covered around 4,500 kilometers over neutral waters. The two bombers were accompanied by fighters from the southern military district, it said. " sputnik explains to the readers: “The Russian long-distance air forces regularly conduct patrol flights over neutral waters in the Arctic, the North Atlantic, the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea and the Pacific. The Defense Office in Moscow points out in particular that all flights are carried out in strict accordance with the international rules for the use of the airspace. "

RFE / RL-Author Bedrov also points out in his article that Russian military activities in the Black Sea area have increased significantly since the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin in 2014. Since then, Russia has strengthened its armed forces in the region, which in turn has led to increased surveillance and more intensive controls by NATO members on the Black Sea.

Corona crisis offers an opportunity to further destabilize Europe

The development in the Baltic States is also worrying. On the occasion of a video conference of the NATO Military Committee on May 14, the committee chairman, British Air Marshal Stuart Peach, first referred to the current global framework in a press session with media representatives. He said at his online press conference: “We are currently living in difficult times that have never been seen in recent history. While nations have to deal with the health, social and economic effects of the global coronavirus pandemic, there are still other challenges. ”As examples, he cited the unsafe situation in Afghanistan and Iraq and the appalling increase in targeted disinformation among citizens. Peach: "This disinformation aims to sow discord in Europe and in our alliance, to divide and ultimately to undermine our democracies."

The British air marshal warned: “In recent weeks, the NATO Air Policing mission over the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had to use planes several times to intercept Russian aircraft over the Baltic Sea region. “In these extremely troubled times it is more important than ever, according to the British, that NATO remains ready and able to react decisively to attempts by potential opponents to exploit the current crisis to advance its own interests.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania continue to have no combat aircraft of their own

Since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004, the surveillance and security of the airspace of these countries has been taken over by air forces from various NATO countries (we reported several times in the past). The air forces of the three Baltic states only have helicopters, transport and training aircraft, but not combat aircraft. This is why they are still not able to carry out visual identification themselves or - for example by intercepting or pushing away - to enforce their air sovereignty. Since 2006, however, the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian armed forces have been firmly integrated into the radar-based military air surveillance system BALTNET (Baltic Air Surveillance Network). For this purpose, officers from the Baltic states had previously been trained to become fighter command officers in Germany.

The NATO contingents to secure the airspace of the Baltic states are stationed at the air bases Šiauliai in Lithuania and Ämari in Estonia (Note: see infographic). As a rule, there are four fighters each and around 100 personnel from the "on duty" nation. The machines are armed with sharp missiles during air policing. Because of the large number of missions and also because of the stationing of Russian machines in neighboring Belarus, the number of NATO jets in the contingents has recently been increased.

German Air Force again at Air Policing Baltic States from September 2020?

So far, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, the Czech Republic, Turkey, Hungary and the USA have participated in air policing in the Baltic States. France, Great Britain and Spain are currently providing the respective quotas up to and including August. The French personnel are stationed with their machines in Ämari, the British and Spanish are at Šiauliai Air Base. Again Danube Courier As reported in August last year, the German Air Force will take over the baton of air security again from September 2020.

According to the latest information from NATO, the Alliance's combat aircraft had to ascend around 200 times in the Baltic States for visual identification or to carry out interception missions. The area of ​​operation in Estonia is particularly explosive due to its proximity to the international airspace over the Baltic Sea, which is also the only connection between the Russian heartland and the exclave around Kaliningrad, the former Königsberg. It happens again and again that aircraft are on the move with a defective - or switched off - transponder.


To our series of images:
1st Eurofighter of the German Air Force lands on October 14, 2016 at the NATO airfield Ämari in Estonia.
(Photo: Tanja Wendt / Bundeswehr)

2. Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft on June 17, 2014 near the airspace of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The machine is accompanied and observed, among other things, by a British Eurofighter fighter plane.
(Photo: RAF / under license OGL v1.0 - complete license text: https://nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)

3. Our infographic shows the location of the two NATO air bases, Ämari in Estonia and Šiauliai in Lithuania. The background photo, taken on July 24, 2015, shows Russian MiG-31 fighters in the airspace over the Baltic Sea. The picture was taken from the cockpit of a British Eurofighter interceptor.
(Photo: RAF / under license OGL v1.0 - complete license text: https://nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/;
Infographic © Christian Dewitz / mediakompakt 05.20)

4. British Air Marshal Stuart Peach, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, at his video press conference in Brussels on May 14, 2020.
(Photo: NATO)