NATO Air Policing Numbers Way Up from Last Year

Pilots and crews assigned to the NATO air policing mission in the Baltics are far busier this year than last, according to new numbers released by Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe. “We have seen a large increase in Russian aircraft in international airspace,” said Estonian Air Force Lt. Col Rauno Sirk, commander of Amari AB, Estonia. Sirk said he believes the Russian military is attempting to send a clear signal by escalating flights and exercises over the Baltic Sea. As of Nov. 20, pilots with the air policing rotation have conducted more than 100 intercepts in 2014—three times more than were conducted in 2013. Most of the intercepts occurred in international air space, over the Baltic Sea and in the air corridor between Kaliningrad and Russia. NATO officials maintain these flights do not help de-escalate tensions in the region, and often are carried out without appropriate flight plan notification to civilian authorities. “It is very important to demonstrate our responsiveness and our reaction an all aspects of the air policing mission,” said Lt. Col. Gordon Schnittker, mission leader for the German air detachment at Amari. German Eurofighters will complete their rotation at the end of the year, and will be replaced by a Spanish detachment in January 2015.