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.
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.
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)