Gallery: Rakvere Castle adds dramatic backdrop to hi-tech NATO air maneuver

Rakvere's 14th Century castle helped to provide a scene of contrasting military tech from different ages Thursday, as 21st century Eurofighter Typhoons flew overhead, guided by ground controllers perched on the castle walls themselves.

A multi-national NATO Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (J-TAC) exercise dubbed Furious Wolf has been going on in and around both Tapa, Lääne-Viru County, home to NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup, and nearby Rakvere.

J-TACs are ground-based personnel who call in and coordinate airstrikes, often very close to the targets, with planes coming in at particularly low altitudes. The ongoing exercise, which has been running all week and continues into next week, involves not only the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF), U.K. personnel based at Tapa, and the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) flying out of Ämari air base, but also Lithuanian troops and Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) jets based at Šiauliai, Lithuania.

Exercise Furious Wolf is held biannually and focuses on air-to-ground communications and the efficient integration between different elements of NATO forces based in the Baltic region.

Thursday saw NATO J-TAC personnel take up positions atop Rakvere's iconic castle, tasked with practicing air-to-ground comms with a low-flying Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoon, while next week it is the turn of the German Eurofighters at Ämari to do the same.

Germany and Italy currently hold the rotational NATO Baltic Air Policing duties role in Ämari and Šiauliai respectively.

ERR's Sergei Stepanov caught up with the NATO eFP commander in Estonia, Col. Paul Clayton, under the shadows of the fortress.

"What we're seeing today is the culmination of three weeks of very good and sophisticated training of our joint tactical air controllers, both from the U.K .and Estonia, but also wider across the Baltic States and the other eFP battlegroups," Col. Clayton said.

"It's going really well. We've seen many nations take part in this exercise. What it does is improves the level of cooperation and procedural benefits and trainig for both the pilots and the joint air controllers themselves," he went on, adding that similar exercises had already taken place last week in Lithuania, as well as at the EDF's central training polygon, near Tapa.

The prominence of both Rakvere's castle and its role in Estonian history made it a fitting location to showcase NATO capabilities, Col. Clayton added.

Meanwhile, one of the J-TAC personnel, Bdr Matt O'Keefe, gave his reflections of the day.

He said: "This is all new to us. At first we were part of eFP Estonia, with all the other partners there, but then we've then linked all the eFPs. The good thing with J-TAC-ing is that everything has to be in English, for the aircraft anyway, but also it has been such a good opportunity to work with nations you might not have come across before; it's the first time I've had to work with Germans and Italians. In terms of actually meeting each other and working together it's been really easy because everyone does the same job. It's great to be abel to swap ideas, how we work, what does and doesn't work etc.and it's been a really good experience so far."

"We started with a low show of force over the castle with some Italian Eurofighters – this is them coming in nice and low, showing off what is in the area, to hopefully mitigate anything they have to engage before it actually happens."

The show of force was followed by planes splitting into two teams, at two different levels and within cloud over. EDF Robinson R-44 helicopters were also involved in the exercise, Bdr O'Keefe said, adding that the training had been beneficial.

"In terms of what we have been able to produce training-wise since we've been out here, it's vastly more than what we would have in the UK. The exercise we conducted down in Lithuania was a success, we got what we needed down there, and so far the first week of what we've conducted in Estonia has been successful with today. Everyone will leave having had more training, they'll have their currency and their competency, and we look forward to the next group, of Americans, coming, who will start next week."

The Battle of Wesenberg (1268) took place close to present-day Rakvere, with Estonians facing off against Danish and German knights. Today, the three countries are NATO allies in both air policing and, in the case of Denmark, the eFP.

You can see more in the gallery above.

The Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi) also posted the following photos on its social media account:

The NATO eFP Battlegroup provided a short video of the overflight:

Wednesday also saw an overflight in Estonian airspace of a U.S.A.F. Rockwell B-1B strategic bomber, also accompanied by a Typhoon.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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