NATO jets based at Ämari conduct daily flights far into central Europe

U.S. F-35 at Ämari.
U.S. F-35 at Ämari. Source: Väino

Flights organized within the framework of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission regularly fly far beyond Estonia's borders, and are engaged in sorties along NATO's eastern flank, far into central Europe.

Over shorter ranges, Boeing CH-47 Chinooks in British service have been ferrying personnel and equipment all round Estonia.

Briti lahingugrupi transpordikopterid Chinook. Autor/allikas: ERR

The ongoing NATO Air Shielding mission, sees planes from the U.S., Belgium and French air forces joining their Estonian and British allies, along with allies from man other member states, making daily flights, both with weapons systems armed, and unarmed.

While the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission based at Ämari, around 50km southwest of Tallinn, has been in operation for several years now, the latest Russian invasion of Ukraine which started in February this year has prompted the alliance to bolster its complement of jets and its roster of flights – taking in all of NATO's eastern flank and not just that of Estonia or the three Baltic States, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reported Tuesday.

Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi) Chief of Staff Col. Jack Lehiste told AK that: "Flight activity has increased significantly. All the planes conduct one or two, sometimes even three, sorties a day."

Lt. Col. "Rocky" MacRae, commander of the recently-arrived U.S. contingent, whose Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs arrived last week, told AK that: "We've flown in every country along NATO's eastern flank, from Estonia, so the entire way down to Bulgaria – we've been airborne over every single one of them."

Meanwhile, Maj. Maes, commander of the Belgian Air Force (Luchtcomponen/Composante air) contingent said: "We were flying around 85 missions a month, and we have both armed missions, when we do border patrols where we fly around the border with Russia, Belarus and Kaliningrad, and unarmed missions, where we do exercises with our NATO allies."

The base at Ämari also conducts exercises in conjunction with its land forces analogue at Tapa, around 100km to the east, where the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup is based.

A Boeing CH-47 Chinook in British service ferried journalists to Ämari for Tuesday's report; the Chinooks usually transport equipment and ammunition to the Estonian Defense Forces' (EDF) 2nd Infantry Brigade based in South Estonia.

Commander of the eFP, British Army Col. Dai Bevan, told AK that: "They've been moving a lot of equipment, a lot of personnel over the weekend; this afternoon they're moving a French company around Estonia, then over the week they'll be moving a lot of the eFP battlegroup – and that's just moving them to southeastern Estonia and the west of Estonia, wherever we are exercising at the time."

Both the British at Tapa and the Belgians at Ämari have kept on personnel and equipment due to have rotated out earlier this year, given the changed security situation. This means that the Belgians stayed on alongside the French contingent which arrived in March, ostensibly to relieve them, while Britain, lead nation of the eFP, now has over 1,600 personnel at Tapa following the same principle – an incoming rotation in March ended up accompanying the previous one, from the Royal Tank Regiment, while at last month's Madrid Summit, British defense secretary Ben Wallace pledged an extra 1,000 U.K. troops on top of that.

While Britain's Army Air Corps often operates out of Tapa and uses helicopters, the Chinooks are in service with that country's Royal Air Force.

The six U.S. F-35 fighter jets belong to the Vermont State National Guard and arrived in Ämari as part of the NATO Air Shielding mission, AK reported.

On Tuesday, the differing destinations of the allies' flights exemplified the pan-eastern flank nature of patrols. While Belgian and French jets both took off at noon, the Belgians were destined for Lithuania for an exercise with Czech planes based at Šiauliai, the other NATO Baltic Air Policing base, while the Americans conducted an air security patrol.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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