British, German air forces in historic joint air policing role in Estonia

Eurofighter Typhoons in RAF and Luftwaffe service taxiing at Ämari.
Eurofighter Typhoons in RAF and Luftwaffe service taxiing at Ämari. Source: FCDO

Eurofighter Typhoons from Britain's Royal Air Force and Germany's Luftwaffe are flying first-of-a-kind joint missions in Estonia this month.

The historic deployment represents the first time a joint NATO detachment is to integrate fully all aspects of operations, and will see around 300 RAF personnel from the 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) arriving in Estonia.

Britain's Defense Secretary, Ben Wallace, said of the development that: "Our RAF personnel in Estonia are undertaking a vital role, ensuring the security of Europe's skies and bolstering NATO's presence in eastern Europe."

"Joint operations of this kind, demonstrate the strength and unity of the NATO Alliance and our shared resolve to maintain peace and security across the region," Wallace continued, via a British Government press release.

 The U.K. contingent, RAF 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) will lead NATO air policing duties, flying out of Ämari, from next month, while the German Air Force detachment also has a historically significant name, 71 Tactical Air Wing "Richthofen".

The latter are already in-country and will hand over lead to the RAF in April, undertaking the joint exercises this month.

Thee integrated missions will be the first of their kind, with the eventual aim of carrying out full joint and integrated NATO Air Policing missions in the future.

Wing Commander Scott Maccoll, Commanding Officer of 140 EAW said: "Today marks a great 'first' for our two air forces. We have been working together for some time and the level of cooperation has now reached a new level. It continues to be an absolute pleasure to work with our German allies on all aspects of our mission - from maintenance and operation of the jets, to planning and logistic activities."

"I would also like to thank our Estonian hosts; they are vital to what we have achieved here," Wg Cdr Maccoll went on.

The German detachment commander, Lt. Col. Christoph Hachmeister, said: "Working together with our allies from the Royal Air Force in a live mission is what we have been looking forward to since we started this mission."

"Now we can demonstrate interoperability in these difficult times to protect our Baltic partners and NATO's eastern flank. The many years of good practice in working together will be the baseline for a successful cooperation," he continued.

Lt. Col. Christoph Hachmeister the German detachment commander greets an arriving RAF pilot, while British Embassy in Estonia Deputy Head of Mission Mrs Ify Agboola looks on. Source: FCDO

The EAW arrival does not mark the first time the RAF have borne responsibility for NATO Baltic Air Policing duties, dubbed Operation Azotize, having done so in Estonia in 2019, for instance.

More recently, in summer 2020, the RAF held the mission in Lithuania, flying out of Šiauliai, and has taken part in two more air policing rotations since then, away from this region and based in Romania.

IX (Bomber) Squadron based at RAF Lossiemouth, in northeastern Scotland, are operating RAF Typhoons.

The RAF lead mission in Estonia will last four months, from the start of April.

Personnel from both air forces have already been training together, in order to better understand each other's processes and practices, which differ even as both fly Eurofighter Typhoons.

Eurofighter Typhoons in RAF and Luftwaffe service. Source: FCDO

The deployment is a separate entity from other U.K. commitments to Estonia, most notably the leadership of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup based at Tapa, which has brought around 1,000 British soldiers to Estonia at any one time, and last year's Agile Task Force deployment.

The UK eFP deployment was established in 2017 under the name Operation Cabrit, and its troops are regularly joined by hosting Estonian troops, and French and Danish personnel.

The British contribution to the NATO Air Policing Mission Exercise in the Baltic Region.

Several other NATO states' air forces have held the air policing mission in recent years, including those of Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Belgium and Spain.

United States Air Force jets often deploy to or make flyovers of Estonia also.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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