NATO jets tasked with Baltic Air Policing duties scrambled four times last week, identifying and escorting Russian Federation military flights in international airspace over the Baltic. In some of the incidents, international aviation norms had not been followed, Lithuania's defense ministry reports.
Wednesday, February 17
NATO planes identified an Ilyushin Il-22 flying between the Russian "mainland" and the Kaliningrad exclave, which borders with Lithuania.
While the Il-22 had a functioning transponder, maintained radio contact with regional air traffic contro and had filed a flight plan, four aircraft accompanying the plane at various stages of its flight, two Sukhoi Su-35 fighters and two Sukhoi Su-27 multi-role fighters did not meet any of the three criteria during their escorting tasks.
A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 all-weather attack aircraft also flew in the direction of Kaliningrad, without any of the three international requirements met.
Thursday, February 18
In a repeat of the previous day's pattern, an Il-22 flying in the opposite direction, from Kaliningrad met requirements in its flight, but two SU-27s and a pair of Su-25s did not.
Friday, February 19
An IIlyushin Il-78 refueling aircraft and a Tupolev Tu-134 airliner flying out of Kaliningrad towards the Russian "mainland" were identified; in this case both planes met the triple criteria of having a transponder on and squawking, maintaining radio contact and filing a flight plan.
Russian Federation planes flying to and from the Kaliningrad exclave generally fly in international airspace, but when in proximity to the airspace of the three Baltic States will see identification and escort procedures carried out by NATO jets as in the above cases.
Another hot-spot is the uninhabited Estonian island of Vaindloo, which recently saw an actual incursion into Estonian airspace by a Russian military plane.
NATO nations provide Baltic Air Policing duties to the Baltic States in order to plug the gaps in those countries' air forces, and fly out of Šiauliai (Lithuania) and Ämari (Estonia) on rotational tours of a few months.
The German Air Force (Luftwaffe) currently holds the Ämari tour on a back-to-back double stint, while planes from the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) currently fly out of Šiauliai.
Editor: Andrew Whyte