Tag Archives: NATO

Russia launches surprise war games in the Baltics alongside NATO drills

Moscow has deployed several assets to the Baltics to conduct exercise alongside NATO Saber Strike.

Last week, the U.S. Air Force deployed three B-52 strategic bombers to RAF Fairford, in the UK, to attend Saber Strike and Baltops exercises in the Baltics.

The Stratofortresses were then joined by two B-2 Spirit bombers involved in a quite unusual overseas deployment.

Saber Strike is a U.S. Army Europe-led security cooperation exercise which focuses on the three Baltic States: Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia; Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) 2014 is an annual multinational maritime exercise held in the Baltics with assets from 13 participating nations.

This means there’s a lot of assets operating in the Baltics these days. That’s the reason why Moscow decided to conduct surprise training of first strike forces, marines, paratroopes and bombers, deploying several aircraft to the Kaliningrad region, close to the NATO war games.

The following video shows some of these assets, including Su-34 Fullback attack planes and A-50 AWACS aircraft (one of those was intercepted by NATO Baltic Air Policing QRA on Jun. 11) as well as SA-9-N Tor, the navalized variant of the all-weather low to medium altitude, short-range surface-to-air missile system used to counter planes, choppers, PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions), UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and short-range ballistic missiles.

 H/T to Steppen Wolf for sending the link over to us.


U.S. Global Hawk UAS flew from Italy to Norway during largest ever test of NATO’s intelligence capabilities

Huge Global Hawk Remotely Piloted Vehicle (RPV) flew from Italy to Norway, during NATO trial dubbed Unified Vision 2014.

A U.S. Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk, flew from its base at Sigonella, Italy, to Norway, as part of Exercise Unified Vision 2014.

The RPV, flew from the airbase in southeastern Sicily, in the Mediterranean (from where the huge drone conduct daily missions over Africa), to Northern European countries, including Norway, to showcase the capability of the NATO Alliance Ground Surveillance (AGS) system to route one of its planned five Global Hawks across the busy European airspace.

Indeed, one of the goals of UV 2014 was to prepare the introduction of the AGS capability and to improve data sharing with other ISR (Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance) systems provided by various NATO and partner nations.

The Global Hawk flew to Norway, cruising at more than 50,000 feet, well above commercial airliners testing the effectiveness of existing ATC procedures to ensure seamless integration of High Altitude Long Endurance UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) within the existing aviation framework.

During the drills, the RQ-4 crossed UK airspace for the first time.

Taking place from May 19 to 29, UV14 saw the participation personnel from 18 NATO nations and three partner nations; 2,000 people attended the exercise that tripled its size since the edition held in 2012.

The drills gave participating arms the opportunity to test their latest ISR equipment and enhance their ability to use, fuse and share data gathered by national and allied assets in a scenario tailored on most recent operational experiences (especially ISAF operation in Afghanistan).

What makes this kind of exercise particularly useful is the fact that they are quite realistic: surface-to-air missile systems are turned on and active GPS jamming is admitted; something almost impossible to do in most parts of the world, because of the interferences with commercial aviation.

Image credit: U.S. Air Force



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Russian Aircraft Carrier in the vicinity? Royal Netherlands Navy had no ships to dispatch

Russia’s only aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov passed through the English Channel recently. But the Dutch Navy had no ships available for escort duties.

In spite of a commitment to the NATO alliance, several years of budget cuts undermined the ability of European countries to perform routine duties, as providing escort to Russian vessels as they sail close to the territorial waters.

Among the arms undermined by shrinking defense budgets, there is also the Royal Netherlands Navy.

When on May 8 the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, sailed through the Channel on international waters, the Royal Netherlands Navy was unable to respond because it lacked warships for the task.

As Lieuwe de Vries and Ruben Veenstra reported, Russia’s only aircraft carrier, with a task force of three tankers, an ocean-going tug and the Landing Support Ship Minsk, took an unusual route to return to its homebase.

According to the Dutch reporters and other local media, “the Russians usually prefer to go around Ireland on the North Atlantic Ocean to avoid other maritime traffic. The journey plotted through the narrow waters can be seen as a typical show of force on behalf of the Russians.”

The Royal Navy dispatched a modern air-defense destroyer, the HMS Dragon, to shadow the Kuznetsov but, as the task force moved up towards the North Sea, it would be a task of the Royal Netherlands Navy to escort the Russians.

“The Royal Netherlands Navy already had made public its spotting of the Russians a few days earlier, when the HNLMS De Zeven Provinciën (English: The Seven Provinces) had picked it up on radar. But by the time the Kuznetsov arrived in the Dutch Exclusive Economic Zone the Seven Provinces had gone on its way for duties in Somali waters and no other ships were at hand for escort duties” de Vries and Veenstra explain.

Unfortunately, the Dutch have retired their fleet of P-3C Orion aircraft in 2002. In the following years, the Dutch Navy Air Arm, that once operated both Maritime Patrol Aircraft and Lynx helicopter, was disbanded.

Ten NH-90 helicopters, operated by the Defense Helicopter Command (DHC), have replaced 24 Lynx choppers. But helicopters are not the best assets for long range shadowing of enemy vessels.

NH-90 RNlNavy

Image credit: Lieuwe de Vries

“Instead of deploying a suitable response the Netherlands Coastguard was asked to deploy one of its Dornier 228 aircraft. Though capable in its intended role the aircraft lacks any equipment to gather worthwhile electronic or photographic intelligence.”

Obviously, the inability to provide a proper escort to the Russian Navy is far from being a surprise. Since the 1980s, the Dutch Navy has drastically reduced its force: from 56, to 23 ships; from 43 aircraft, to none.

The incident, more embarrassing than other, has only highlighted a widespread situation among NATO partners, most of which are quite far from the Treaty’s target 2 percent of the GDP on defense spending (with the Netherlands around 1.3 percent). In the same days Russia has become more aggressive in East Europe.

Top Image: Russian Navy


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Polish Air Force Mig-29 and Royal Air Force Typhoon jets on Baltic Alert

Polish Fulcrums and British Eurofighter Typhoons provide Baltic Air Policing from Lithuania.

The RAF and the Polish Air Force have taken over the four-month rotation of Baltic Air Policing since the beginning of the month.

The task, usually undertaken with four fighter planes, aims to provide air defense for those NATO member states that have no fighter jets of their own to secure their airspaces: Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.

The RAF has committed to the operation four Typhoon FGR4 aircraft, whereas the Polish Air Force has deployed four Mig-29 Fulcrum fighters. Both contingents operate from Siauliai Air Base, Lithunia, where the two air forces occupy areas located at the opposite ends of the runway.

The aircraft are kept armed and ready to take-off as quickly as possible in what is known Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) service.

NATO planes deployed to Lithuania, are often scrambled to intercept Russian planes flying to/from Kaliningrad oblast, performing long-range missions around Scandinavia and the British Isles, or simply spying in the Baltic.

Tension is quite high in this period: the already frequent close encounter between NATO interceptors and Russian planes have become even more frequent, since Russia invaded Crimea.

On May 15, Mig-29 jets scrambled to intercept two Russian Air Force Su-27s over the Baltic Sea.

RAF pilots taking part in the Baltic Air Policing have already flown QRA missions from the UK, as pilot Flight Lieutenant Tim Pye, a member of 3(Fighter) Squadron who are the lead squadron on the deployment, explained on the RAF website:

“My first interception was of a pair of Russian Tu-22 Backfire bombers approaching UK airspace which was both tense and exciting at the same time. I also scrambled against two Russian Navy Su-27 Flankers launched from an aircraft carrier but on that occasion the fighters turned away as we approached.”

The Polish and Royal Air Force detachments have taken over the task from the U.S. Air Force’s 48th Fighter Wing and their F-15C Eagle aircraft.

Image credit: NATO


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Six Canadian CF-18 Hornet jets are deploying to Eastern Europe in response to Ukraine crisis

As part of Canada’s commitment to the NATO, the government of PM Harper decided to dispatch six Royal Canadian Air Force CF-18 Hornet jets to Eastern Europe.

On Apr. 29, six RCAF Hornets belonging to the 425th Tactical Fighter Squadron have left Canadian Forces Base Bagotville in Quebec to join their NATO counter parts that have increased their presence around Ukraine.

The flight, supported by a Polaris tanker and an Aurora patrol aircraft have made a stopover in Keflavik, Iceland, on their way to Romania.

The purpose of their mission is “to conduct training activities in support of immediate reassurance measures.”

The Canadian CF-18s are multirole aircraft that have been extensively used during the Libya Air War in 2011, when they operated from Trapani airbase, in Italy.

H/T to Winston for the heads-up. Image credit: RCAF


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