Never mind the devastating reports we have seen on the operational availability of the Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoon aircraft in Luftwaffe and Royal Air Force service. Europe’s multi-role jet fighter has a little success story to tell, with the detachment of the Spanish Air Force at Ämari Airbase in Estonia.
Four C.16s – as the Typhoons are called in Ejército del Aire service – from Ala 11 out of Morón provide part of NATO’s air cover for the Baltic republics Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 1 January 2015. According to Spanish military sources to the nation’s leading newspaper El País the Eurofighters flew 108 patrols, clocking 200 hours of flight time and only cancelling one pre-planned sortie because of technical problems.
Like with many other NATO countries Spain has contributed to the Baltic Air Policing before, which is costing the Spanish tax payers about 9 million euros for the current engagement in Estonia that lasts until the end of May. In 2006 four Dassault C.14s (Mirage F-1s) from Ala 14 were deployed to Lithuania. The government in Madrid plans to send the next Spanish Air Force Baltic Air Policing rotation in 2016.
The Spanish Air Force has reported for duty at Ämari Airbase in Estonia, for their tour of the Baltic Air Policing mission. Four Eurofighter C.16 (EF2000) Typhoons from Ala 11 left Morón Airbase in the early morning of 29 December and headed north.
The Spanish detachment is a 114 men and women strong, and was during its build-up supported by a Boeing T.17 (707) of 471 Esc. from Torrejon and a Lockheed T.10 (C-130) of 311 Esc. from Zaragoza.
As of 1 January 2015 the Ejército del Aire has taken over the air defence ops in Estonia from the Luftwaffe. The Germans also flew the Eurofighters till New Year. Like with the other NATO rotations at Šiauliai in Lithuania (Italian EF2000s and Polish MiG-29s) and Malbork in Poland (Belgian F-16s) the Spanish Typhoons will operate under control of the Command Air Component NATO (AIRCOM) based at Ramstein in Germany. Main mission: to keep track of and intercept the many Russian military flights that have been showing up even inside NATO and Scandinavian airspace the last couple of years.
According to the Ejército del Aire the Spanish Typhoons deployed now have been training for their mission in November at Lanzarote. Like with many other NATO countries Spain has contributed to the Baltic Air Policing before. In 2006 four Dassault C.14s (Mirage F-1s) from Ala 14 were deployed to Lithuania. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t have any fighter aircraft themselves. That’s why NATO provides the air cover to these member states, like it also does on Iceland.
After this week’s news of the Dutch ending their shift in the Baltic Air Policing mission, full details have emerged about contries and aircraft that will guard NATO’s north eastern flank the coming months.
As reported, Belgian F-16s will take the place of the Dutch F-16s in Malbork, Poland. Italian Eurofighter Typhoons will position themselves in Šiauliai, Lithuania, replacing Portuguese F-16s. In turn MiG-29 Fulcrums from Poland will also fly to Šiauliai, relieving Canadian CF-188 Hornets.
Finaly, Spanish Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons will fly to Ämari, Estonia, where they will take the place of German Typhoons. Meanwhile a pair of Hungarian Air Force SAAB JAS 39 Gripen jets were warming up in the 2nd week of December for their upcoming deployment in Estonia from September to December 2015.
For the first time in history Swedish fighter jets touched down on Estonian ground on 2 October 2014. Together with Finnish jets the two large Scandinavian countries started a series of air combat training with the NATO air forces of Estland, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada and Germany. Base of operations for it all: Ämari Airbase in Estonia, which until February this year was not taken much seriously. That has all changed after Russia sent military forces into the Crimean Peninsula and Eastern Ukraine.
During the exercise the participating countries will train on intercepting other aircraft. A trick that not only NATO, Sweden and Finland, but also Russia is doing a lot these days. A Flygvapnet S 102B Korpen (Swedish Air Force Electronic Signals gathering version of the Gulfstream IVS) was almost body checked recently in international airspace over the Baltic Sea by a heavily armed Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter launched from Kaliningrad. This Russian enclave is squeezed between Lithuania and Poland. The news and photos taken by the Swedish signal intelligence organisation personnel on board the S 102B was first published by Swedish quality newspaper Svenska Dagbladet on Thursday 1 October 2014.
Officially the training from Ämari is more peaceful and aimed at intercepting an aircraft with which radio contact has been lost. Part of the scenario is that the four Swedish JAS 39C Gripen fighters and at least a pair of Finnish F-18s make the first interception and then transfer the responsibility to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP). During the exercise the BAP is provided by a pair of Portuguese Air Force F-16s, a pair of Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188s and up to four German Air Force EF2000s. A single Estonian L-410 transport aircraft is the “catch” during the exercise, which has given its crew excellent photo opportunities of the intercepting fighter aircraft.
The Luftwaffe Eurofighters are temporarily based in Estonia for the BAP mission, while the RCAF Hornets and Força Aérea Portuguesa Fighting Falcons flew over from their BAP base in Lithuania for the duration of the exercise. All fighters, including the Swedish Gripens return to their forward operation bases or homebases after the day’s exercise to join the action again the next day. For the Swedes that means RTB Ronneby, near the main naval base of Karlskrona in the southeast of the country.
UPDATED 1 SEPTEMBER 2014 | With the flight of a German C.160 Transall from Penzing in Southern Germany with cargo to Ämari in Estonia, the Luftwaffe has begun its contribution to the Baltic Air Policing mission. This NATO air defence umbrella of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is the coming four months done together with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF/KLu) and the Força Aérea Portuguesa (FAP).
The new rotation will provide air cover, interception and deterrence from September till December 2014. Although the Baltic Air Policing has operated from Šiauliai since March 2004, the German EF2000s are only the second rotation in total operating from Ämari. This second base in Estonia was added after persuasive offerings from the Estonian government at a time that Russia was taking over the Crimean peninsula and displayed its force towards Eastern Ukraine.
Source: Luftwaffe / RCAF / Ministerie van Defensie / FAP