2015-03-12 Spain took over the rotating command of NATO’s air policing mission in January 2015.
The Spanish Air Force is flying its Eurofighters in this role.
According to an El Pais article published on February 19, 2015:
Planes from Group 11 of the Spanish Air Force have been in control of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission (BAPM), based in Ämari, since January 1 and will continue there until May 4.
So far, the Eurofighters have conducted 108 patrols, clocking up nearly 200 hours of flight time.
Only one flight had to be canceled because of technical problems.
Eurofighters have conducted 108 patrols, clocking up nearly 200 hours of flight time
“It has been better than we thought,” said Lt. Col. Enrique Fernández Ambel, who is heading the team of 115 Spanish officers of the Ambar detachment.
But the fears are real and the tension exists. NATO is concerned that the conflict may spill over from Ukraine, where the Kiev government has been fighting pro-Russian separatists.
Along the icy waters of the Baltic, two old Cold War adversaries can look directly into each others’ eyes at distances sometimes as close as 300 meters – that is how near Spanish Eurofighters have come to Russian aircraft during the interceptions that have taken place.
These testy encounters have occurred about half-a-dozen times when Russian Ilyushin and Antonov transport planes – modified for spying or electronic warfare – fly from St Petersburg to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, which is sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland.
Although the Russian jets have not violated Baltic airspace, they ignore international air navigation rules by not filing a flight plan, turning off their transponders so they can’t be identified, or refusing to communicate with civil aviation authorities.
The Spanish Eurofighters usually intercept and escort them under the orders of NATO’s Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), based in Uedem, Germany.
Commander Eladio Daniel Leal said the tensest moments usually occur when the alarm goes off and “you just don’t know who you are going to encounter, or how they are going to react.”
NATO has been helping the Baltic nations patrol their airspace since 2004 as none of them has an air force of their own. Member countries take turns leading the mission.
And in a story published on January 30, 2015 on the NATO Allied Command Operations website:
Fighter aircraft from Italy, Poland, Spain and Belgium took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission on January 1, 2015 and will continue to patrol the skies over Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia with a total of sixteen aircraft over the next several months.
NATO has quadrupled the number of NATO fighter jets monitoring the airspace over the Baltic states since early 2014.
This is one of several prudent and defensive measures taken by NATO in response to the security challenges posed by Russia’s recent destabilising actions and use of hybrid warfare in Eastern Europe.
The Alliance has observed a steady increase in Russian military air activity near its borders and the overall nature of Russian air activity has changed.
It is now more assertive and frequent compared to previous years. Allies have voiced concerns about the timing, locations and composition of Russian flights, particularly in the context of a dramatically changed security environment.
Last year, NATO aircraft assigned to the Baltic Air Policing Mission conducted over 150 interceptions of Russian military aircraft, which is about four times as many as in 2013.
“We are concerned about these numbers because it represents a higher than normal amount of Russian air activity close to our borders,” said Lieutenant Colonel Riivo Valge, Chief of Staff of the Estonian Air Force.
“Specifically the amount of transport and fighter air activity has been increased,” he said.
Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task.
For member nations not having the full range of Air Defence assets in their own militaries (Albania, Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), agreements exist to ensure a single standard of security within NATO’s Area of Responsibility.
The air policing mission above the Baltic States illustrates the ability of the Alliance to share and pool existing capabilities.
It started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. So far, 14 NATO nations have participated in this mission.
This is an important confidence building measure to demonstrate the Alliance solidarity and resolve not only to current members, but also to our partners and future potential members.
Air Policing has been, and remains, the cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion.
The video below shows Spanish air force planes in operation.
And the video was released by the Spanish Ministry of Defense on February 20, 2015.