Tag Archives: NATO

Photo of Secretary General of NATO aircraft escorted by Dutch F-16s over the Baltic enroute to Estonia

This is what is what a HVAAE (High Value Air Asset Escort) looks like from inside the plane being escorted!

On Nov. 20, Secretary General of NATO, Mr. Jens Stoltenberg, visited Estonia as part of a tour of the Baltic States.

Before arriving at Estonia’s Ämari Airbase the Stoltenberg aircraft was accompanied and escorted by Royal Netherlands Air Force F-16s based at Malbork in Poland.

The Dutch contingent, made of four F-16 Fighting Falcon jets, is supporting NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission along with the Canadian CF-18 Hornets and the Portuguese F-16s based at Šiauliai in Lithuania and the German Eurofighter Typhoons based at Ämari

“[…] the presence or jets and troops from many nations demonstrates the resolve of all allies to stand with the Baltic nations. All for one. One for all,” he said.

The sort-of HVAAE mission flown by the Dutch F-16 was rather symbolic, since there was no risk of any air threat to the NATO VIP flight. Still, it was an opportunity to get some nice photographs, as the one you can see on top of this article.

NATO fighter jets deployed in the Baltic Region have frequently been scrambled to investigate and escort Russian Air Force planes in the area.

Image credit: NATO

 

[Photo] NATO Nuclear Exercise “Steadfast Noon 2014″

Here are some images of Steadfast Noon 2014, a NATO Nuclear exercise.

With news, AIP supplements, comments all over the Internet, and photographs published on aviation websites and spotters forums across Europe, it’s not a secret that, at the end of October, Ghedi airbase, in northern Italy, hosted Steadfast Noon 2014, a yearly exercise whose aim was to train NATO units employing “special weapons” (i.e. nuclear bombs).

Tornado IDS turn

Needless to say, such exercises are routinely conducted without the aircraft carrying any bomb, since their purpose is to train the crews to load and unload nukes and to assess the participating units’ ability to safely deal with this kind of ordnance.

Turkish AF F-16 landing

In other words, Steadfast Noon exercises and Strikeval (Strike Evaluation) inspections and certifications are extremely important to ensure nuclear weapons can be properly managed should the need arise.

F-16 AV

Among the various European air arms taking part in Steadfast Noon there was also the Polish Air Force, that deployed to Ghedi its F-16 Block 52+ jets from Lask air base, in western Poland, the same airbase where U.S. F-16 are being frequently rotated.

As highlighted by the Federation of American Scientists in an article by Hans M. Kristensen, the participation of the Polish F-16s is particularly interesting since they are not believed to be assigned a nuclear strike mission under NATO nuclear policy.

F-16 RNlAF

Anyway, in this post you can find some interesting photographs depicting the Steadfast Noon participants, from Poland, Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Turkey, and United States, taken by photographer Fabrizio Berni.

F-16 BAF

Tornado GAF

Image credit: Fabrizio Berni

 

The untold story of the US Army unit that surveilled the East/West German border before the collapse of the Wall

Here is a small glimpse into part of an untold story of the Cold War.

25 years ago the Berlin Wall came down.

Tom Demerly was a Scout Observer for Company “F”, 425th INF (RANGER/AIRBORNE), Long Range Surveillance Unit (LRSU), a small unit which conducted surveillance along the East/West German border just before the collapse of the wall.

To celebrate the anniversary, Demerly shared on his blog an interesting and insightful account about the “stay-behind surveillance” special operations his LRSU counducted in Eastern Europe, along the Warsaw Pact/NATO dividing line, where the U.S. Army unit was ready to infiltrate deep behind the wall, to watch things or installing Seismic Intrusion Devices to monitor the movements of Soviet armored vehicles and aircraft.

Here below you can read the whole story that Demerly has allowed us to share with you on this blog.

Watching the Berlin Wall

by Tom Demerly

25 years ago my phone rang at home. “Are you seeing this?”

“What?” I asked. “You better turn on your TV.” The Berlin wall was coming down. We won.

During my brief and very non-illustrious military “career” (if you could call it that) part of what my unit did was trained to conduct “stay-behind surveillance” on Eastern Europe, mostly along the Warsaw Pact/NATO dividing line. Especially East and West Germany. And the Berlin Wall.

We were a special operations long-range surveillance unit. Our unit trained to infiltrate deep behind the wall and watch things. Counting. Observing. Classifying. Reading. Installing sensors called “SID” or Seismic Intrusion Devices to monitor the movement of armored vehicles along key roads, aircraft movement and anything else the Warsaw Pact was doing. Then, if all went well, we would enter the intelligence into a device we called a “dumb-dog” or Digital Message Device Group (DMDG) attached to our radios and send a burst transmission with our S.A.L.U.T.E. report, a kind of outline that classifies Size, Activity, Location, Uniforms (or Unit), Time and Equipment. After that we’d quickly change positions to another hide site since the Soviets and East Germans had a nasty habit of calling in air and artillery strikes when they detected a burst radio transmission, knowing that they were being spied on in their own back yard.

Every year we participated in an operation called REFORGER or “REturn of FORces to GERmany”. Part of our unit would go to England to cross-train with the British Special Air Service, another part would go to Germany to their special Long Range Surveillance School, and a third part would go to REFORGER.

At REFORGER, business was serious.

We flew on a C-130 from Selfridge ANGB in Mt. Clemens, Michigan to Lajes, Portugal. In Portugal we landed to refuel, stretch our legs, and receive a briefing that, once in Germany, we were “at war”. Equipment was changed. Uniforms were sterilized of insignia that identified our unit. And we were given a yellow “get out of jail free” card to hand to friendly forces when our own units captured us and they had no idea who or what we were. We, of course, were not allowed to say a thing to them. Only, “Call the number on the card”.

During the time we were deployed to Europe near the East/West German border espionage was the national industry. A briefing told us “1 in 8 East Germans are involved in some form of espionage”. “While inside West Germany you will be under constant East German surveillance.” There was no way to shake it. And the East Germans weren’t subtle about it. An apartment building across the street from the former WWII German barracks we lived in constantly had observers in the window. They took our photos as we came and went. We went through ridiculous rituals to evade surveillance. Following one incident we were forbidden to wear uniforms off post.

The place we were staying was built before WWII and it hadn’t been updated since. Especially the plumbing. It was build out of quant stone and concrete and had low ceilings and iron bars. The basement, really a dungeon, was where our equipment masters kept our armory. Drawing your equipment down there was like a scene from a Bond movie or “Where Eagles Dare”. The only thing missing was “Q”, and we didn’t have any Aston-Martins. Or fancy suits. Or watches that shot missiles.

Our surveillance patrols consisted of six-man teams, sometimes less, sometimes more depending on what we were doing. Sometimes other members of different services, and even different countries joined us.

I was our team’s “Scout Observer”, the guy who looked at stuff. I had to be able to identify things. Part of the reason I landed this job was I had an encyclopedic knowledge of military equipment, theirs and ours. Especially aircraft. Another reason is because I had graduated as honor graduate from my schooling at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

The Berlin Wall was different in different places depending on where you were along its length. Sometimes it was simply a bricked-up building booby-trapped with mines. Other times it was a brightly lit open expanse, the “kill zone”, with mines and dog runs on each side of the wall. Where we visited this day it was actually a series of barriers; a barbed wire topped, chain link fence, a carefully raked pea-gravel kill-zone with anti-personnel mines and interlocking fields of sniper fire, the wall itself- a tall, concrete affair with what looked like a horizontal row of large diameter pipe on top of it. The sinister thing was, if a person lived crossing the minefield and the sniper kill zone, and actually managed to scale the wall itself, they were greeted on top by these rotating cylinders. They would simply spin backwards under your desperate grasp until a sniper’s bullet found you. In this spot, many people had tried to get across. None made it.

We were observing an interesting phenomenon. The East Germans had closed a factory near the wall and taken it over as an observation post to look on our side of the wall. The OP was located atop a high smoke stack that used to be part of the now abandoned factory. At the top of the smoke stack was an East German observer.

The intel we had was that this observer would change at regular intervals. It was freezing up there in the smoke stack observation point, and the poor East German border guard, or whoever he was, must have been miserable. He surveiled our side of the border through rifle scopes and powerful binoculars.

But he was not entirely without creature comforts.

One day a rickety-looking Lada compact jitney of a car pulled up near the base of Red Smokestack OP. It jerked to a halt. Oddly, a woman dressed in a huge, poofy white fur coat climbed out, carrying a cylinder from which steam was rising. Nerve gas? Radioactive isotope? It was soup to be delivered to the man in the tower. Two border guards accepted the soup canister and one appeared to try to make progress with the woman in the fur coat. He failed, she returned to her decrepit little car, reversed away from the kill zone and left. One of the guards spent the next few minutes carrying the large thermos of soup up to the top of the guard tower.

We later learned that observation assignment to the guard tower OP was a kind of “punishment detail”. That the border guards who watched from the tower got there because they had screwed something up, been late to report to duty, etc. It must have been miserable up there in the freezing wind. And it is no wonder East German morale among their supposedly “elite” border guard units was reported to be poor just before the wall came down.

While observing the wall, I learned a profound and sad lesson about humankind. Ducks had flown into a river on the NATO (free) side of the border. They paddled around as ducks do. But then, in complete contravention to all official doctrine surrounding border activity, the ducks took to wing, flew a brief circle over the pond on the West German side, and then flew directly over the Berlin Wall into East Germany. The ducks crossed the border without a thought or a care. No clearance, no identification, no checkpoint, no shooting. They just flew across the border.

My concept of freedom was forever altered in that moment. My respect for the wisdom of man was also. The ducks could come and go. We built artificial barriers to separate ideas and ideals.

Of course, The Wall didn’t work. And one day my phone rang. And the war that never started, a war that Tom Clancy wrote was, “A war with no battles, no monuments… only casualties” was over. And while I always stop short of declaring a “winner” in any war, I was quietly pleased to see that the cause of freedom and liberty had won the day the wall came down.

Wall USArmy

Image credit: U.S. Army

Our unit was one of the smallest and least known of the entire U.S. arsenal. To this day, even its modest Wikipedia page is short and light on details. In the records of units who participated in REFORGER, our unit is buried deep inside another. That I know of, there is not a single photo of us in Germany. An unofficial unit insignia we made had the inscription, “Around The World, Unseen.” We were, as my Patrol Leader was fond of saying, “Like smoke in a hurricane”.

What we learned from the Cold War and the Berlin Wall coming down served us well. In the first Gulf War Long Range Surveillance Teams, now part of a new secret U.S. Army Special Forces unit, penetrated deep into Iraq to survey routes for armored invasions, find Scud missiles and direct airstrikes and rescue downed U.S. airmen. Long Range Surveillance and its value was more than proven. Again, as it was by the reconnaissance teams before us, the LRRPs in Vietnam and recon and intelligence units in WWII.

Tom Demerly is a writer, endurance athlete and industry journalist. He consults to military supplier Tactical Performance, Inc. and writes for a number of media outlets. Demerly lives in Michigan in the U.S. where he also works in the triathlon industry.

Top image: Left: Tom Demerly at a training exercise in Northern Michigan with Co. “F”, 425 INF (AIRBORNE) Long Range Surveillance Unit. Right: My “Get Out of Jail Free” card for REFORGER (credit T. Demerly).

 

Russian spyplane violates Lithuania airspace, Canadian Hornets intercept it

Two Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet jets intercepted and shadowed a Russian Air Force Il-20 Coot over Lithuania.

On Nov. 8, two RCAF CF-18 (or CF-188) Hornet jets deployed to Lithuania for NATO Baltic Air Policing mission were radar-vectored to intercept and escort a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 Coot-A plane flying off the Baltic coast.

According to Canadian media outlets, the CF-18s were conducting a routine training sortie out of Siauliai airbase, when they were re-tasked to visually ID the Russian ELINT (Electronic Intelligence) plane that had violated Lithuania’s airspace (even if some sources say the Il-20 was reached by the Canadian Hornets as it was flying over international waters – hence, in international airspace).

The CF-18s shadowed the Il-20 for 5 minutes, took some photographs (not yet released), then were ordered to return to base.

The Il-20 electronic reconnaissance plane is, by far, the Russian aircraft most frequently intercepted by NATO fighter jets in the Baltic region.

On Oct. 20, a Russian Il-20 was intercepted by Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188s scrambled from Siauliai in Lithuania; on Oct. 21, Portuguese AF F-16s, also deployed to Siauliai airbase for NATO Baltic Air Policing mission were scrambled to intercept and shadow an Il-20 Coot intelligence gathering aircraft.

The same type of aircraft was involved in the near-miss incident on Mar. 3, 2014, when SAS flight SK 681, a Boeing 737 with 132 people on board from Kastrup – Copenhagen to Rome had to change course in order to avoid colliding into an Il-20, flying without transponder and therefore not visible to the civil Air Traffic Control, about 50 miles to the southwest of Malmö.

Image credit: RCAF

 

Spike in Russian Air Force activity in Europe may be a reaction to large US Strategic Command bombers exercise

Usually, after every Global Thunder, the Russians launch similar long range bomber missions.

On Oct. 29, the U.S. Strategic Command concluded its largest yearly exercise. On the very same day, the Russian Air Force launched three packages which included of a mix of bombers and escort fighters for a total of 19 warplanes (26 if we consider also the close encounter on Oct. 28): a surge in missions flown close to European airspaces that NATO defined “unusual.

A mere coincidence? Maybe, maybe not.

Exercise Global Thunder 15 (first exercise for FY 2015, hence the 15) “is a command and control exercise designed to train Department of Defense forces and assess joint operational readiness across all of USSTRATCOM’s mission areas with a specific focus on nuclear readiness.”

Conducted in coordination with North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command’s Exercise Vigilant Shield 15 (attended by tactical warplanes with the aim to train homeland defense forces), Global Thunder 15 is a realistic exercise during which nearly every USSTRATCOM component, task force, unit, command post and bomb wing takes part in the training events which are aimed at improving all the Command capabilities: space, cyber, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, global strike, and ballistic missile defense.

On a 24-hour period, yearly Global Thunders foresee intense B-52 and B-2s perform their MITO departures and going up to the Arctic and back, controlled by several E-6B Mercury aircraft.

Some strategic bombers route up over Nova Scotia and up past Thule/Greenland and either go all the way around North of Canada and back down through Canada/Alaska or they turn round and go back the way they came. Other waves go up over Alaska first and come back down viceversa.

A one-day simulated nuclear war.

Richard Cliff, a reader of The Aviationist and military aviation expert noticed that, usually after every Global Thunder, the Russians seem to launch similar long-range bomber missions, as those that caused the alert scrambles by NATO QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) cells across Europe.

Therefore, Global Strike proves Russian bombers are not the only ones to fly in the Arctic or perform simulated long-range nuclear missions. At the same time, the exercise may be one of the reasons behind the spike in the Russian activities in Europe (even though we can’t but notice that the amount of close encounters has increased in the last couple of years regardless to whether there was a US Strategic Command in the same period or not).

Global Thunder 15

Image credit: U.S. Air Force