Tag Archives: Ämari

Scandinavia joins NATO over Estonia; Russian ‘bodycheck’

Amazingly close this Su-27 comes to the Swedish Air Force S 102B Korpen, imaged released by the Swedish Signal Intelligence Authority (Image © FRA)
Amazingly close this Su-27 comes to the Swedish Air Force S 102B Korpen on 16 July 2014, imaged released by the Swedish defence signal intelligence organisation (Image © FRA)

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.

Finnish and Canadian Hornets at the flightline of Ämari in Estonia (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
Finnish and Canadian Hornets at the flightline of Ämari in Estonia (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)

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.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Check all our reports on the Baltic Air Policing Mission

Swedish Gripens, Portuguese F-16s and Canadian Hornets on the ground at Ämari (Image © Kent Löving / Försvarsmakten)
Swedish Gripens, Portuguese F-16s and Canadian Hornets on the ground at Ämari
(Image © Kent Löving / Försvarsmakten)
A Finnish Air Foce F-18C over the vastness of the Baltic sea coast (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
A Finnish Air Foce F-18C over the vastness of the Baltic sea coast (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
A German Air Force EF2000 photographed from an Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
A German Air Force EF2000 photographed from an Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
The skies over Estonia seen from the Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
The skies over Estonia seen from the Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
A Finnish Air Force F-18A photographed from the L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
A Finnish Air Force F-18C photographed from the L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
The Estonian L-410 on the ground at Ämari (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
The Estonian L-410 on the ground at Ämari (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
Close up of a German Air Force EF2000 seen from the Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)
Close up of a German Air Force EF2000 seen from the Estonian L-410 (Image © Eesti Kaitsevägi)

German Baltic Air Policing has started

Luftwaffe dual-seat Eurofighter EF2000(T) with serial 30+31 touch-and-go at Fliegerhorst Wittmundhafen Niedersachsen, Germany. (Image © Marcel Burger)
Luftwaffe dual-seat Eurofighter EF2000(T) with serial 30+31 touch-and-go at Fliegerhorst Wittmundhafen Niedersachsen, Germany. (Image © Marcel Burger)

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 Germans will deploy four Eurofighter EF2000s to Ämari – where they relieve four Danish F-16s – and hold another pair on a 96-hour stand-by in Germany. Six RCAF CF-18 Hornets relocated from Romania to Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania. This airfield will also be used by FAP F-16s. The RNLAF Vipers will operate from Malbork Airbase in Poland, where they relieve French fighter jets.

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

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Portugal operates a few dozen F-16s, of which 15101 was delivered first. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
Portugal operates a few dozen F-16s, of which 15101 was delivered first. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
RNLAF F-16AM J-001 at Volkel Airbase (Image © Dennis Spronk)
RNLAF F-16AM J-001 at Volkel Airbase (Image © Dennis Spronk)

Lakenheath F-15s test Estonian Air Base

Landing of one of two USAFE F-15Cs at Ämaris Airbase in Estonia on 22 April 2014 (Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)
Landing of one of two USAFE F-15s at Ämari Airbase in Estonia on 22 April 2014
(Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)

US Air Force F-15 Eagles tested Estonian Air Base Ämaris today, 22 April 2014, ahead of the upcoming NATO Baltic Air Policing deployment from May 2014.

Two of the USAFE’s air-superiority fighters, a F-15C and a F-15D, from RAF Lakenheath deployed to Ämaris from Šiauliai in Lithuania, where ten of the F-15s are based until the end of this month. The Lithuanian Air Base was until now the sole location for the rotating NATO fighter coverage for its northeastern flank (the Baltic states).

But after the military pressure from Russia on Ukraine, NATO has gladly accepted Estonia’s offer to use its main air base as a secondary location. According to the Estonian Ministry of Defence the US is sending an army company (150 troops) to the Baltic country this month for training. Such US presence might even be permanent sources within to the government in the capital Tallinn say on 22 April.

A USAFE F-15C from RAF Lakenheath testing the wire at the runway of Ämaris Airbase, Estonia (Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)
An USAFE F-15C from RAF Lakenheath testing the wire at the runway of Ämari Airbase, Estonia
(Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)

Estonian Airbase Ämari has undergone upgrades the last couple of years to serve as a fighter base. With the Estonian Armed Forces having no such aircraft themselves, it was fully aimed at attracting NATO jets. From May 2014 four Royal Danish Air Force F-16s will be based at Ämaris for their four month rotation, while four Polish MiG-29s and four Royal Air Force Typhoons will fly from Šiauliai.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger

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The two USAFE F-15C from RAF Lakenheath at Ämaris Airbase, Estonia, 22 April 2014 (Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)
The two USAFE F-15s from RAF Lakenheath at Ämari Airbase, Estonia, 22 April 2014
(Image © Esper Kaar / Eesti Kaitsevägi)

MiG-29s, Typhoons and F-16s to protect Baltic states

A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum-A taking off from Berlin-Schönefeld during an airshow in 2008. (Image © Elmer van Hest)
A Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum-A taking off from Berlin-Schönefeld during an airshow in 2008.
(Image © Elmer van Hest)

With several offers on the table and Russia showing no sign in easing its military readiness exercises nor its concentration of forces on the border with Ukraine, NATO is eager to semi-permanently increase its Baltic Air Policing detachment from four to a dozen aircraft.

NATO officials confirmed on 9 April 2014 four Polish Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrums, four Royal Air Force Typhoon FRG.4 and six Royal Danish Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters will start their four month air defence mission of NATO’s in May this year. The force might get even more back-up as France is expected to send four Rafale or Mirage 2000s to a Polish air base.

The former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are since 2004 part of NATO. Since they lack proper air defence assets themselves, other NATO members jump in on the joint task to protect the airspaces of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft. Until Russia took control of the Crimea peninsula further southeast, the NATO Air Policing mission consisted of four fighter jets making 15 tot 20 flight hours per month of a combined total of 320 flight hours. The mission rotates between member states.

Lakenheath USAFE F-15Cs at Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai Airbase, Lithuania, in April 2014 (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)
Lakenheath USAFE F-15Cs at Šiauliai Airbase, Lithuania, in April 2014 (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)

Game changed
Shortly after the US Air Force took responsibility for its 4 months, the game changed. In stead of the usual quartet of fighter jets on a relatively low-key mission, loads of Russian combat planes move in the proximity of the Baltic republics. The Russian flew high-readiness missions, including live fire drills as close as 30 miles of the Finnish and Baltic borders and in the Russian Kaliningrad enclave squeezed between Poland and Lithuania. Moreover, Russia increased fighter and AWACS presence in neighbouring Belarus. The US government responded by sending an addditional six F-15C Eagle air-supiority fighters and a KC-135 tanker aircraft from its bases in the UK. Moreover, a dozen USAFE Aviano F-16s landed in Poland.

Royal Danish Air Force F-16AM from Esk 727 with serial E-599 taking off (Image © Marcel Burger)
Royal Danish Air Force F-16AM from Esk 727 with serial E-599 taking off (Image © Marcel Burger)

Two airbases
To spread the air coverage and to take some of the nervousness amongst the Baltic states away the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission will use two airbases from May on. Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania will still be the main base of operations, with the RAF Typhoons and the Polish MiG-29s arriving for their four month tour of duty at the end of April. A quartet of Danish F-16s and about 50 Danish military personnel will deploy to Ämari in Estonia, confirmed the Danish Forsvaret on 9 April 2014. Ämari is situated in the northwest of Estonia. Another two RDAF Vipers will be on dedicated Baltic scramble alert at Skrydstryp in Denmark, ready to forward deploy to Estonia as well if necessary.

Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai in Lithuania in April during a pre-planned NATO Partnership for Peace exercise with USAFE F-15s (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)
Two Swedish Air Force JAS 39 Gripen fighters at Šiauliai in Lithuania in April during a pre-planned NATO Partnership for Peace exercise with USAFE F-15s (Image © Lithuanian Ministry of Defence)

Sweden
Despite the fact that Sweden is not part of NATO the biggest country of Scandinavia has also increased its military readiness. SAAB JAS 39 Gripen fighter planes are forwardly deployed to Visby Airport at the big Swedish island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Moreover, a pair of Swedish Air Force Gripens trained with the USAF F-15C Eagles and Lithuanian defences in the beginning of April flying from Šiauliai in Lithuania as part of a pre-planned Partnership for Peace exercise. Several Swedish sources report increased flying activity of the Flygvapnet Gulfstream IVS or S 102 B Korpen as it is known is Swedish service. Two of these aircraft have been especially modified to gather electronic information (SIGINT) on behalf of the Defence Signal Intelligence Agency (FRA). The Swedish national security police Säpo recently called Russia a threat to the the Swedish state, for the first time in more than 20 years.

© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger

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RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)
RAF Typhoon ZJ803 during an earlier training (Image © Marcel Burger)

American Eagles go Baltic

An  USAF F-15C Eagle from RAF Lakenheath earlier this year during the Icelandic Air Policing. Here it performs a simulated intercept of a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, deployed from RAF Mildenhall, England, while flying over Iceland on 21 November 2013  ( (Image 1st Lt. Leah Davis © USAF)
An USAF F-15C Eagle from RAF Lakenheath earlier this year during the Icelandic Air Policing. Here it performs a simulated intercept of a USAF KC-135 Stratotanker, deployed from RAF Mildenhall, England, while flying over Iceland on 21 November 2013 ( (Image 1st Lt. Leah Davis © USAF)

As of today, 30 December 2013, the US Air Force will try to protect NATO’s Baltic flank with four McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15C Eagle fighter jets.

The Americans from the 48th Fighter Group out of RAF Lakenheath take over the Baltic Air Policing task from Belgian Air Component F-16AM Fighting Falcons, which were the successors of the French Mirage F1s in the air defence mission that rotates amongst NATO members.

Lithuania
From Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania every USAF Eagle pilot will fly about 20 hours per month, three months in a row, with 320 flight hours for the entire mission. NATO’s detachment of fighter jets in Lithuania regularly intercepts or shadows Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea. NATO provides a similar air policing detachment to Iceland, where it were also USAF F-15Cs that patrolled the skies during the last few months.

Estonia
The former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are since 2004 part of NATO. Since they lack proper air defence assets themselves, other NATO members jump in on the joint task to protect the aerospace of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft. As of 2015 NATO is considering a second base of operations: Ämari in Estonia.

Supersonic boom
A fun side-note from Estononian newspaper Postimees: for the first time since it gained independence in 1991 Estonia recorded a supersonic boom in its skies on 6 November 2013. It was caused by exercising NATO aircraft that flew at an estimated 28,000 feet over the Viljandi and Valga counties.

Source: NATO / USAF / Lithuanian Ministry of Defence / Postimees

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