Tag Archives: Latvia

Baltics: training ‘on the job’

The Baltic states provided the stage again for NATO exercise BRTE on Tuesday 29 September. It’s training on the job for Hungarian Saab Gripen and German Eurofighter Typhoon crews, who are on in the Baltics foremost for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duties. Finnish F-18 Hornet and Swedish Saab Gripen pilots also played are part in BRTE.

The abbreviation stands for Baltic Region Training Events, a series of military flying exercises conducted over the Baltics and Baltic Sea. The exercise is meant to keep QRA-crews on their toes. The Hungarians protect the Baltics from intruders from Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, while the German do so from Ämari airbase in Estonia.

Today’s exercise focussed on Siauliai, with a Lithuanian C-27J Spartan simulating a loss of communications (COMLOSS) in Estonian airspace. German Eurofighter Typhoons launched to intercept and identify the transport aircraft and then hand it over to the Hungarian Saab Gripen jets, which escorted it back to Šiauliai. Also involved were a NATO Boeing E-3 AWACS and a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Elmer van Hest
Featured image (top): A Eurofighter escorts a Spartan. (Image © LAF Air Base)

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(Image © LAF Air Base)
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NATO’s Baltic Air Policing down to eight aircraft

NATO is cutting down on its Baltic Air Policing involvement. The detachment of four Belgian Air Component F-16s at Malbork Airbase in Poland has already left, leaving the air defence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the hands of only twelve and soon only eight fighters on two in stead of three different airbases.

The diminishing of the air combat force has been acknowledged by the ministries of defence in the Baltic republics.

As of September the Hungarian Air Force will base four of its 12 operational SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen jets on Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, while the German Air Force will fly four of its Eurofighter EF2000s (Typhoon) from Ämari Air Base in Estonia.

Until a week ago NATO had sixteen fighter jets committed to its Baltic flank, with the Belgian detachment in Poland and Italian Air Force and Royal Air Force EF2000 Typhoons being lead by the Royal Norwegian Air Force with four Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons.

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

The move to cut the force by 50 percent is controversial and has probably a cost-saving background, as Russian military air activity in the region stays at a decade high. However, Poland retains one of its own MiG-29 Fulcrum air defence fighter units at Malbork, so some back-up is available. NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t have any fighter jets of their own.

The deployment in Lithuania puts an extra strain on the Hungarian Air Force, which had two Gripen crashes lately likely because of mistakes might by their crews. (Check our newstream!)

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A Hungarian Air Force (Magyar Légierő) SAAB JAS 39D Gripen taking off during the 2014 NATO Tiger Meet. (Image © Marcel Burger)

War games as usual over the Baltic Sea

While NATO, Sweden and Finland are jointly engaged in large scale military exercises on the Baltic Sea coasts and in the countries neighbouring Russia, it is business as usual in the air above the Northern European waters with Russia sending up bombers and escorts, and the opposing side scrambling fighter jets.

Last week was somewhat special. The stars and stripes were promoted big time by two US Air Force B-52H bombers dropping training sea mines off the coast of Skåne in Southern Sweden. They were escorted by at least four Swedish Air Force Gripen fighter jets. The training mission, with the Buffs flying in from the United Kingdom, was part of the large scale Baltops 2015 exercise (5 – 20 June), that also saw Swedish and US Marines landing on the Scandinavian coast using the USS San Antonio as main floating base. Baltops 2015 also marked the first time the B-52s were on a real operational training mission inside Swedish air space.

The last couple of days saw the more usual suspects. Russian aircraft gave acte de presence in international airspace bordering Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Denmark.

Royal Air Force Typhoons came home with nice pictures of a pair of Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-31 Foxhound long-distance interceptors. Saab JAS 39 Gripen planes of the Swedish Air Force shadowed a pair of Tupolev Tu-22M3 bombers escorted by two MiG-31s twice in 24 hours, as the Russian Air Force package was making a routine flight from the St. Petersburg area over the Baltic Sea towards Kaliningrad.

Baltic Air Policing
NATO planes at Ämari in Estonia and/or Šiauliai in Lithuania and/or Malbork in Poland also scramble to intercept a Ilyushin IL-20 at least on one occasion. The recon/spy plane is a regular for the NATO jets. The more specials of this week were a Iluyshin / Beriev A-50 AWACS and an Antonov AN-26. Currently the Baltic Air Policing mission on the three bases mentioned, is run by the Royal Norwegian Air Force (RNoAF) and the Belgian Air Component – both each with 4 F-16AM Fighting Falcons – plus the Royal Air Force and the Italian Air Force – both each with 4 Eurofighter EF2000 / Typhoon jets.

Saber Strike
Meanwhile NATO forces “attacked” a military airfield, Swidwin Airbase in Poland, as part of the multinational exercise Saber Strike 2015 (8 – 19 June) that includes the countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as well. The Saber Strike airfield assault that included a paradrop was meant to prep ground and air forces for a possible combined operation of the future.

Raptors
In an attempt to keep things at bay in that future the US policy makers are now even considering sending half or a whole squadron of F-22A Raptor air-supiority stealth fighters to the other side of the Atlantic, but neither a time schedule or a possible base of operations has been revealed.

Looks like the start of a warm Summer in usually cold Northern Europe.

© 2015 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger
Featured image (top): A MiG-31 in earlier action (Image © Olga Balashova / Russian Air Force)

Backfires and Bears over the Baltic Sea

While Norway reports business as usual, from Latvia, Estonia and Sweden total different reports have come in on 8 December on recent Russian military air activity in the area. The Russian Air Force sent a few of its rare sights – over the Baltics that is – out over sea during over the weekend: Tu-95 Bears and Tu-22M Backfires.

The strategic bombers were co-acting with Russian navy vessels during a maritime training exercise. Although closely watched by NATO, Sweden and Finland, sources say that none of the planes intruded airspace of other nations. But especially in Sweden the matter of nuclear capable planes has been noticed.

“Russia has been flying Tu-95 strategic bombers over the Baltic Sea. I doubt this has ever happened before. Certainly not in recent decades,” former Swedish Foreign Minister and currently “entrepreneur in future and peace” tweeted in response. With the current Swedish government waiting for the next elections only two months after it started its job, Mr. Bildt is still a main voice on foreign affairs for the largest Scandinavian country.

But Bildt’s statement has been somewhat downplayed from Latvia, where a defence sources say that it has happened as recently as September this year and many times before that. One thing is certain though, Moscow’s geopolitical game is getting noted.

© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger

Related: Norway: “Russian air activity not more than before”
AND: NATO: “Significant Russian military maneouvres over Europe”

A Tupolev Tu-95 bomber of the Russian Air Force (Image © RAF)
A Tupolev Tu-95 bomber of the Russian Air Force (Image © RAF)
A Tupolev Tu-22M3 of the type that simulated attack on Sweden during Eastern 2013 (Image © Max)
A Tupolev Tu-22M Backfire, an aircraft similar to the western Rockwell B-1B bomber. (Image © Max)