How often do RAF jets intercept planes

Photo documents: NATO jets intercept Russians over the Baltic Sea

NATO jets have been patrolling the Baltic States for years and are increasingly encountering Russian aircraft. Spanish "Typhoon" pilots recently published interesting pictures of such interceptions.

The NATO mission "Baltic Air Policing", in the framework of which combat aircraft from NATO countries have been monitoring the airspace of the small Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for eleven years, have recently become known: They show Spanish Eurofighter "Typhoon" "Fighter planes, so to speak, on a wing-like feel with Russian military planes - including those that are quite seldom seen.

Background: Since 2004, when the Baltic states joined, NATO has been operating the "Air Policing Baltic" or "Baltic Air Policing" air patrol from the Siauliai air base in Lithuania. The Balts have no significant air forces, they only consist of a handful of helicopters, vans, training and reconnaissance aircraft.

Massive reinforcement from spring 2014

For a long time - each for several months - four jets from a single NATO state were stationed there. In view of the unsettled situation in Eastern Europe, the Atlantic alliance drastically strengthened this air police in spring 2014 to four national swarms of usually four jets each, i.e. 16 planes. In addition, a base was set up at the Estonian airport Ämari near Tallinn, and French, Belgian and Dutch aircraft were or are temporarily stationed at a base near Gdansk in Poland. Since then, jets have also been relocated to other NATO countries in the east, such as Romania.

Since May 1st, this air police consists of swarms of the Norwegian, Belgian, British and Italian air forces, with the Norwegians in the lead. Norwegians and Belgians fly with F-16s "Fighting Falcons", British and Italians with Typhoons. Previously, since the beginning of the year, Italians, Belgians, Poles (this one with MiG-29 "Fulcrum") and Spaniards (four Typhoons) had been on guard, and there was obviously a lot to do: The Italian Air Force, which in this case had the leading role and from Siauliai operated, stated that their Typhoon swarm alone had sent up an alarm fleet (two jets) 28 times in order to shadow, intercept or escort Russian aircraft.

Meeting with "Iwan"

The photos that have now emerged come from the Spanish Typhoon contingent of the 11th Squadron from Morón near Seville in southern Spain and were published for the first time days ago in the online version of the Spanish newspaper "ABC". The Spaniards (114 contingent strength) were stationed in Ämeri (Estonia). When and where exactly the photos were taken was not specified; it is obvious, however, that they were made on March 21: On that day the Latvian Defense Ministry announced that two Russian Sukhoi Su-27 "Flanker" air superiority fighters, two Su-34 "Fullback" fighter-bombers and two Antonov aircraft 26 "Curl" transporters had been identified.

And this is what these encounters between the western pilots and the "Iwans", as it is still called by the military today, looked like:

Here a Spanish Typhoon meets one Su-34 "Fullback". This heavy, rather coarse-looking two-seater fighter-bomber was developed in the final phase of the USSR, especially for hard-hitting air-to-ground missions deep in the enemy hinterland and against sea targets. Due to the turmoil and financial problems in Russia in the 1990s, it was not built until 2006 and was later introduced into the Russian Air Force. Around 65 pieces have been made so far, 50 to 55 of them are said to be active.

Those interested in export are or were allegedly Algeria, Iran and Syria. Because of the conspicuously curved front part of the fuselage (you can see it better in the picture below), the airplane is often called "platypus" in the west. The "sting" on the stern is a launcher for decoys, ie for charges that are supposed to deflect heat and radar-controlled missiles.


Here is another picture of an airy encounter between Spanish Typhoon and Russian FullbackPilots over the Baltic Sea.


In the picture above there will be a Antonov An-26 "Curl"-Transporter escorted. This is already an aviation classic, at least 1,400 units built from 1969 onwards. The robust device for short and medium-haul routes with space for 30 to 40 passengers or 5.5 tons of freight was and is used in many countries militarily and civilly, in addition to Russia, for example, in Vietnam, China, Peru, Pakistan, Madagascar, Poland, Serbia, Ukraine and the USA. Incidentally, Antonov is a Ukrainian aviation company.

"Backfire" on supersonic

Most interception missions were "relaxed", as they say. Reports that the Russians were acting "aggressively" were thwarted by statements by German fighter pilots, among other things, last autumn. But this year March 24th was exciting: On the day Italian Typhoons and "Gripen" of the Swedes rose to a formation of two Flankers and two Tupolev Tu-22M "Backfire" bombers in international airspace over the Baltic Sea near Latvia to watch. The peculiarity: a backfire left the formation and went supersonic with the direction of flight Denmark, allegedly for the first time in the region. The Italians had to fire up their afterburners to intercept them, and she rejoined the formation. The Russians' destination was the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania.

Pictures from other operations of the Baltic Air Policing:

Here a French Mirage F-1 catches one Backfire bomber off, that was sometime between May and September 2013. The supersonic backfires were put into service in the USSR in the 1970s as medium-range bombers with a deployment radius of around 2,400 kilometers. You can carry nuclear weapons; Their main purpose in an emergency of World War 3 would have been to use cruise missiles and long-range air-to-air missiles over the North Atlantic to attack ship convoys and transport aircraft that would have brought reinforcements to Europe from the USA and Canada.


The above is also from a mission by the French on June 27, 2013. A Mirage F-1 is approaching one off Latvia Ilyushin Il-20 "Coot", that is an aircraft that was put into service in the 1970s with a clear mission: ELINT, "electronic intelligence", in other words electronic reconnaissance, a spy aircraft, to put it simply.


The picture above shows another one Il-20 "Coot", in this case accompanied by a Saab "Gripen" of the 211th tactical squadron of the Czech Air Force. Our northern neighbors have so far participated in the Baltic air police in 2009 and 2012/13.