Hungarian JAS-39C Gripens Lead NATO Baltic Air Policing – Lithuania

Hungarian pilots react to a Scramble alert and rush to a waiting vehicle which will take them to the aircraft hanger that houses their JAS-39C Gripen fighter jets at Siauliai Air Force Base in Lithuania. Today this is a training skirmish, but the reality is that NATO air forces over the past several years across Europe have scrambled around 400 times each year to intercept unknown aircraft approaching the Alliance's airspace. Each year, almost 90 percent of these missions — about 350 — were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft. Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, file a flight plan or communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential danger to civilian aircraft. Across Europe, around 40 air surveillance radars and reporting centres, and around 60 NATO aircraft, are on duty 24/7, serving as a rapid response force for aircraft that fall into danger or defy the rules international flights near Alliance airspace.

NATO has operated a Baltic air policing mission for Estonia, Latvia and, as shown here, Lithuania since the three countries joined the Alliance in 2004. Hungary took command of the mission from Spain in August 2022, deploying its JAS fighter jets -39C Gripen in Lithuania for the third time since 2015 , NATO also provides Air Police cover for allies in the Western Balkans that do not have fighter jets of their own: Albania, Slovenia and Montenegro. The Allies also help to control the skies of Romania, Bulgaria and Iceland. NATO aircraft respond to unannounced military flights as well as civilian aircraft that lose communication with air traffic controllers for any reason, which can range from technical problems to hijacking. NATO has two air operations centers – one in Germany, covering northern Europe, and one in Spain, covering the south – which monitor all air movements across Europe.

NATO has recorded many types of Russian air force aircraft approaching Alliance airspace. Here, a Mig-31 superfast interceptor will fly at high altitudes near NATO airspace , occasionally escorting TU-95 missile carriers, an aircraft that is often tracked by NATO radar systems. NATO in this case two TU-95s and the long-range TU-142 variant , escorted by MiG-31s ​​approaching British airspace, were intercepted by RAF Typhoons in early 2022 as they approached Scotland.

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