Poland’s Top Guns take control of patrolling skies over Baltic States
Polish F-16 fighter pilots have taken over policing the skies over the Baltic States.
From January to April, the Polish Air Force will take lead of the Baltic Air Policing operation, which it has been involved in since 2015, replacing Belgian jets.
The aim of the mission is to patrol the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as the nearby international skies over the Baltic sea, to intercept any dangers.
These could include aircrafts without working onboard transponders, no radio communication with the regional air traffic control or aircraft that haven’t submitted flight plans.
The Baltic states, while equipped with short range ground air defence, don’t have the capacity to command their own skies.
While violations are generally rare, there has been a recent increase from Russian Su-27 fighter jets and Su-24 Fencer bombers.
Last year there were over a hundred incidents, where allied forces were sent to deal with Russian aircrafts.
However, a German major and pilot, when asked about the behaviour of the intercepted Russian aircrafts replied, that the Russians “are very professional. There are no dangerous situations, they almost always have a flight plan and radio communication with civilian air traffic control.
“We shortly greet each other and take photographic documentation.”
In addition to the ‘Alpha Scramble’ command, which gives pilots only 15 minutes to be airborne and head towards the possible threat, NATO forces use the operation for reconnaissance, training missions and offering aid to planes, which lost radio communication or are simply lost.
Polish military contingent ‘Orlik 8’, with four F-16 fighter jets and up to 140 people will take over the Belgian air force and make base in Šiauliai, Lithuania. The complementary German force, five Eurofighters will stay in Ämari Air Base, Estonia.
This is the second time Poland will deploy the F-16s, in previous missions used the Russian-made MiG-29A.
Apart from jets, in the past the Malbork airbase had been opened to foreign forces participating in NATO operations.