The Danish Air Force is currently involved in its sixth NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

Danish F-16 NATO Baltic Air Policing
A few meters from Danish F-16 fighters over the Baltics.

On January 5, a detachment of the Danish Air Force landed with four F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, to carry out the next 4-month rotation of the NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltic states. 

The Danish detachment relieved the airmen belonging to the U.S. Air Force's 493rd Expeditionary Strike Fighter Squadron that with seven F-15C Eagles from RAF Lakenheth conducted the same mission in the previous 4 months during which they made 30 interceptions.

The Danish rotation is formed by personnel and equipment of the Fighter Wing Skrydstrup. It is the sixth time Denmark is manning the mission, the previous rotations were deployed in 2004, 2009, 2011, 2013 at Siauliai, and in 2014 at Amari Air Base, Estonia.

Danish aircraft conducted the first interception at the end of January when a NATO radars picked up an air track that did not comply with international standard aviation rules. It was neither sending a transponder signal nor in radio contact with civilian air traffic control nor was a flight plan available. The track moved from mainland Russia to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad over international waters near NATO airspace.

Consequently, two Danish QRA F-16 fighters were tasked to fly to the area to identify the track, a Russian fighter aircraft. The two combat plane escorted it out of the NATO airspace.

This type of missions are usual in the Baltics, in recent years Russia has increased its activity in the borders of the nation. According to figures provided by the Lithuanian Defense Ministry, NATO jets last year intercepted around 130 Russian aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea. The alliance's aircraft were scrambled about 110 times in 2016, down from some 160 times in 2015 and 140 times in 2014.

The NATO BAP mission offers pilots to operate in a challenging environment: they have the opportunity to perform many more real QRA missions than at home and the reaction times must be very fast considering the small size of the Baltic countries. When the alarm is given, they have to run into hangars, wearing the special high-altitude flight suits waiting on the boarding ladder, climb into the cockpit and takeoff. When in flight the pilots reach the visual contact with the “Renegade” aircraft quickly. Pilots start these missions without any details about the threat, they receive these info only during the flight to save time.

The aircraft deployed to air policing mission does not only monitoring border violations, but provide assistance to any aircraft that might find itself in trouble in the Baltic airspace. Sometimes the civilian aircraft forget to communicate with air control. Although this is not a risk for the country, such aircraft must be identified.

During the past few days we have had the opportunity to become part of the Danish crew's training even if the mission was an air-to-air footage. We boarded a Lithuanian C-27 that played the role of the bandit for the occasion. Two DAF F-16s targeted us a few hundred meters above the groud. The two fighters approached us flying at a close range to allow us to take memorable shots from the rear cargo ramp. Well done Guys!

The Danish contingent is supported in the defense of the Baltics by the Italian Air Force. Italy has sent four Eurofighter jets to Amari AB, Estonia, to carry out the same mission during the same period. The Italian Typhoons have performed nine interceptions from the beginning of January to the end of March.

NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltic States has already been conducted by Belgian, Danish, Czech, UK, Spanish, U.S., Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Turkish, German and Portugal air contingents. The air assets deployed on the mission maintain a permanent readiness posture to scramble at short notice and take deterrent of other actions against the trespassers.

The BAP is a great example of cooperation between NATO member countries, you can find more about air policing missions here.

Written by Matteo Sanzani
Images: George Karavantos

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