NATO jets involved in air policing duties were involved in identification and escort duties five times last week, in response to military flights between the Russian Federation's Kaliningrad exclave and 'mainland' Russia.
The flights were routine, operated largely from Šiauliai in Lithuania; the Russian planes were flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea – the main issue concerns a lack of adherence to standard international flight protocols.
Diary: Week commencing Monday, June 15
Monday, June 15: One Sukhoi Su-24MR (NATO reporting name: "Fencer") all-weather attack aircraft was intercepted. The plane was flying from Kaliningrad and had no functioning transponder*, had not filed a flight plan with air traffic control and did not maintain radio contact with the latter.
Tuesday, June 16: NATO jets on Baltic air policing duties intercepted a Tupolev Tu-134 airliner (NATO reporting name: "Crusty"), in military service, en route to Kaliningrad, though this plane had filed a flight plan and maintained radio communication, as well as having a functioning transponder.
An Antonov An-30 (NATO reporting name: "Clank") reconnaissance aircraft was also intercepted flying in the opposite direction, though it too ticked all the boxes regarding transponder, flight plan and radio communications.
Another Su-24MR accompanied by two Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name: "Flanker") fighter jets were also tracked; while the latter returned to Kaliningrad the Su-24 continued onward to Russia and was joined by two Sukhoi Su-35s (NATO reporting name: "Flanker-E") multi-role fighters, which had flown from the Russian Federation.
Thursday, June 18: NATO air policing aircraft intercepted one antiquated Il-20 (NATO reporting name: "Coot") turboprop plane flying from Kaliningrad to mainland Russia with the trifecta of no filed flight plan, no functioning transponder and no radio contact all present.
Friday, June 19: An Antonov An-12 (NATO reporting name: "Cub") transport aircraft flying from Kaliningrad was intercepted by NATO jets; this one had filed a flight plan in advance and was maintaining radio contact but not a transponder.
- Flight plan: Documents filed by a pilot or flight dispatcher with a local air navigation service provider (EANS in Estonia, Oro navigacija in Lithuania, LGS in Latvia) prior to departure and which indicate an aircraft's planned route or flight path.
- Transponder: An electronic device that produces a response when it receives a radio-frequency interrogation. Used in identification with air traffic control (ATC) radar; ATCs assign a transponder code, or "squawk". Often an aircraft will not have its transponder "switched off" so much as not have one which functions on a frequency compatible with ATC on the ground.
The NATO air policing duties fly from Ämari, west of Tallinn, as well as Šiauliai. Currently, the rotating responsibility is being conducted by the French Air Force (Armée de l'Air Française). The air policing comes as part of Estonia's NATO membership package and dates back to 2004 when it joined the alliance, together with the other two Baltic States. It is a separate operation from the Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup stationed at Tapa.
Editor: Andrew Whyte