Epic photoshoot with Polish, Belgian F-16s over Baltics

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing
F-16 fighters perform tactical demonstration maneuvers during a photoshoot over the Baltics.

Baltic Air Policing (BAP and EBAP)

The Baltic Air Policing (BAP, is a rotational Air Defense role taken up by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, as the Baltic countries (Estonia, Lithuania and Lettonia) do not have the means to maintain their own Air Defense fighters on a 24/7 basis, upon their entrance in NATO in 2004. For three to four months, NATO partners deploy their fighters to Ämari airbase in Estonia (ICAO: EEEI) or Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania (ICAO: EYSA). And in times of higher tensions, the eastern airbase of Malbork in Poland will also be used by NATO partners on rotational duty to protect the eastern NATO flank. The Malbork deployments are called Extended Baltic Air Policing (EBAP).
The Baltic Air Policing missions are controlled by Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) Uedem, near the city of Kalkar (Germany).

Belgian Air Force

In 2004, the Belgian Air Force was the first NATO Air Force to participate in the NATO Baltic Air Policing programme and 17 years later the Belgians are the one of the two current BAP contributors. The other contributor is the Polish Air Force with F-16s at Šiauliai airbase (ICAO: EYSA) in Lithuania.

The Baltic Air Policing programme is under control of the NATO Allied Air Command based at Ramstein airbase (Germany).

For the Baltic Air Policing, the overall control of the Baltic Air Space is coordinated from the Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) Uedem in Germany, where the whole of northern Europe is controlled. The Baltic Control and Reporting Center (CRC) at Karmėlava (LT) directs the Baltic Air Policing aircraft to their targets.

There are 3 kinds of Scrambles

● ALPHA-SCRAMBLE: this is the real thing where the aircraft is launched in less than fifteen minutes
● TANGO-SCRAMBLE: this is a training Scramble where the full Scramble is exercised, without any aircraft to be intercepted
● SIERRA-SCRAMBLE: this is a training Scramble where the full Scramble is exercised, without a take-off.

During wintertime the number of intercepts decreases, with an increase during springtime.

Most ALPHA-SCRAMBLEs happen on the airway between the Russian area of St. Petersburg and Russian enclave Kaliningrad located between Lithuania and Poland; as the only way to travel to/from Kaliningrad is by sea or by air, without requesting visa and custom-clearances.

Besides that, some unidentified helicopters fly between Kalinigrad and some oil rigs at sea.

Polish Air Force

On November 25, 2021, the 10th rotation of Polish Military Contingent ‘Orlik‘ (PMC Orlik) took place. began a four-month combat duty over the Baltic states as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

The contingent numbers about 150 people. Its core consists of soldiers from the 31st Tactical airbase and four F-16 planes. The personnel is stationed in Šiauliai, Lithuania. For the F-16 crews from the 31st Tactical airbase, it is already NATO's third Baltic Air Policing mission.

The most important task of the soldiers of the 10th rotation of the Polish Military Contingent Orlik is to intercept planes that will violate the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The mission of the North Atlantic Alliance, as part of the military airspace surveillance of the Baltic states, is conducted on the basis of a rotating system of duty hours performed by other allied states since 2004. Polish aircraft flew for the first time at Baltic Air Policing in 2006.

Fulfilling allied obligations, Poland will implement the Baltic Air Policing military airspace surveillance mission in the Baltic states from December 1, 2021 to March 31, 2022. The mission's goal is to prevent breaches of the NATO airspace in the Baltic states, and to assist the crews of aircraft in the Baltic states. emergency situations and possible protection of the population and troops against air attacks .

The Polish F-16s were acquired around 2002 and the first deliveries took place in 2006. And the LockheedMartin F-35 has been selected to increase the strength of the Polish Air Force, the first F-35 should arrive around 2024.

Media Flight

On Tuesday January 25th, 2022, a media flight was organized by NATO Allied Air Command, the Polish Air Force, the Belgian Air Force and the Lithuanian Air Force.
 
During the morning, an electronic briefing was started with the photoflight directors, the Polish F-16 pilots and the Lithuanian C-27 pilots at Šiauliai airbase while the Belgian F-16 pilots joined the briefing from Ämari airbase. During the briefing, the various formations, the timelines, the flightlevels and the frequencies were discussed.

After the take-off, the Lithuanian C-27J transport aircraft flew towards a reserved airspace overhead northern Lithuania. Onboard were seven aviation reporters, securely attached to the floor. After some orbits, the Belgian F-16s joined up first for formation photos and break photos. Then the Polish F-16s would join for a flight with all four F-16s in various formations. After the formations of four, both Belgian and Polish flight leads would make a flight of two, while both flight leads had their national flags draped in the front of their cockpits. Then the Belgian F-16s departed back to Ämari airbase, while the Polish F-16s continued to fly during the beautiful sunset.

This photoflight was planned and coordinated by Sławek ‘Hesja’ Krajniewski, who organizes similar commercial air-to-air photo opportunities in Poland.

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

Unrest in Eastern Europe

Due to the political and military unrest around the Ukraine, the NATO countries moved additional aerial assets towards Eastern Europe. The following assets have been deployed so far (February 2022).

Estonia: The existing Belgian Air Force BAP detachment of F-16s at Ämari airbase, was enhanced by the deployment of additional U.S. Air Force F-15Es (from Seymour Johnson airbase, NC) by the end of January.

Lithuania: The existing Polish Air Force BAP detachment of F-16s at Šiauliai airbase, was enhanced by the deployment of additional Danish Air Force F-16s by the end of January.

Poland: The U.S. Air Force in Europe deployed F-16 from Spangdahlem airbase (Germany) to Lask airbase (Poland)

Romania: The existing Italian Air Force detachment of Eurofighters at Mihail Kogalniceanu airbase , was enhanced by the deployment of German Air Force Eurofighters.

Bulgaria: The Dutch Air Force sendt Lockheed Martin F-35 on a deployment to Bulgaria, just 1 month after reaching Initial Operational Capability (IOC).

Mediterranean Sea: The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Truman (CVN-75) and the French Navy aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle (R91) are conducting operations in the eastern part of the Mediterranean Sea.

NATO Allied Air Command

NATO Allied Air Command has its headquarters at Ramstein AB (Germany) and is lead by US Air Force General Jeffrey L. Harrigian (four star General). The Allied Air Command has various tasks, like the defensive NATO’s Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) and the peacetime NATO Air Policing. There are some additional tasks for Allied Air Command, such as the Baltic Air Policing and the Iceland Air Policing.

The Headquarters includes the Operations Centre for Air Policing, Ballistic Missile Defence and operational control of NATO’s Airborne Early Warning and Control Force as well as for NATO’s Alliance Ground Surveillance Force. The Headquarters can also host a Joint Force Air Component to command and control allied air operations during crisis and conflict. The staff is permanently augmented by representatives from three of NATO’s partner nations, Sweden, Finland and Azerbaijan.

In order to fulfill the Air Operations task , NATO Allied Air Command has 3 operational units

● Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany
● Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) Torrejón at Torrejón aB in Spain
● Deployable Air Command and Control Centre (DACCC), at Poggio Renatico in Italy

Big thanks

● NATO Allied Air Command
● Polish Air Force: Poznan airbase, 31st airbase
● Lithuanian Air Force: Šiauliai airbase, C-27J crew for the photoshoot
● Belgian Air Force: Florennes and Kleine-Brogel airbase
● Sławek ‘Hesja’ Krajniewski for planning and performing the photoshoot

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

F16 NATO Baltic Air Policing

Text by: Alex van Noye & Joris van Boven 
Photos by: Alex van Noye & Joris van Boven

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