Tag Archives: Baltic Air Policing

Up Close And Personal With The Italian Typhoon Jets Deployed To Bulgaria Under NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing

Four Italian Typhoons have deployed to Bulgaria to bolster NATO’s Air Policing mission in the Black Sea region.

Four Italian Air Force F-2000A Typhoon jets have deployed to Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, to undertake the NATO’s enhanced Air Policing mission from July until October 2017.

The Italian Typhoons belong to the 4° Stormo (Wing) of Grosseto, 36° Stormo from Gioia del Colle and the 37° Stormo from Trapani even though, as always happens when involved in real operations, the Italian aircrews will operate as part of a Task Force where, regardless of the unit, badges and traditions (all the squadrons involved in the deployment have recently celebrated their centenary…) all personnel, aircraft and equipment are completely integrated and interchangeable, thanks to fully standardized procedures and training.

The Italian rotation to Bulgaria will overlap until September with the RAF detachment of four Typhoons deployed to Mihail Kogalniceanu air base in Romania as part of the same Southern Air Policing mission.

Following a familiarization phase, the Italian team will undergo certification by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) Torrejon, Spain before providing Air Policing tasks alongside the local Bulgarian Air Force MiG-29 Fulcrum jets.

The Italian F-2000As on the ramp at Graf Ignatievo Air Base.

A Bulgarian Air Force Fulcrum taxies next to the Italian Typhoons.

Since Bulgaria “is perfectly able to conduct NATO Air Policing with its assets; this enhanced Air Policing capability offered by the Italian jets provides the CAOC with more flexibility to conduct the mission.”

This is the first time the Italian Typhoons take part in the NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing mission in the Black Sea area: so far the ItAF “Tiffies” have supported the Icelandic (in 2013 and earlier this year) and Baltic (in 2015) while supporting the Interim Air Policing task over Slovenia (task shared with the Hungarian Air Force) and over Albania (task shared with the Hellenic Air Force).

Typhoon’s rear view.

One of the ItAF Typhoons parked at Graf Ignatievo Air Base, Bulgaria, after its arrival on Jul. 7.

Breaking for landing

“While Air Policing is a collective peacetime task to ensure integrity and security of NATO airspace, the enhanced Air Policing was agreed and implemented by NATO Allies at the Wales Summit in 2014 under the Assurance Measures. These measures are aimed at assuring Allies along the NATO’s eastern flank of Alliance commitment and resolve as well as deterrence and defence,” said NATO in an official release about the deployment.

The images in this post were taken by Nikolay Dimov at Graf Ignatievo as the Italians landed to support the Air Policing task in Bulgaria on Jul. 7, 2017.

Two of the four IRIS-T air-to-air missiles carried by the Italian Typhoons in Bulgaria.

Typhoon head on: take a look at the loadout.

Image credit: Nikolay Dimov

 

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New Video Shows Close Encounter Between NATO F-16 And Su-27 Flanker Escorting Russian Defense Minister Plane Over The Baltic

Exciting moments over the Baltic Sea as a Polish F-16 shadows a Russian VIP plane sparking the reaction by an escorting Su-27 Flanker.

Zvezda has just released some interesting footage allegedly showing a NATO F-16 approaching Russian Defense Ministry Sergei Shoigu’s plane while flying over the Baltic Sea.

According to the first reports and analysis of the footage, the F-16 (most probably a Polish Air Force Block 52+ aircraft supporting the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission from Lithuania – hence, armed) shadowed the Tu-154 aircraft (most probably the aircraft with registration RA-85686) carrying the defense minister en route to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad when one armed Russian Su-27 Flanker escorting Shoigu’s plane maneuvered towards the NATO aircraft, forcing it to move farther.

Some minutes later, the F-16 left the area, according to the reports.

Similar close encounters occur quite frequently in the Baltic region.

We have published many articles in the past about Russian aircraft coming quite close to both NATO fighters in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) duty and U.S. spyplanes: indeed, the latest incident comes a day after the Russian defense ministry said an RC-135 U.S. reconnaissance plane had aggressively and dangerously maneuvered in the proximity of a Russian fighter jet over the Baltic. The ministry said at the same time that another RC-135 had been intercepted by a Russian jet in the same area.

Business as usual….

H/T Lasse Holm for sending this over to us.

 

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Russian Activity In The Baltic Region Leads To Spike In Alert Scrambles By NATO Interceptors Supporting BAP Mission

The NATO fighter aircraft supporting BAP (Baltic Air Policing) mission in the Baltic States conducted six alert scrambles to identify and escort Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea in one week.

The Ministry of National Defence Republic of Lithuania has just released some interesting data about the activities conducted by the NATO fighter aircraft deployed to the Baltic States in support of NATO BAP mission.

According to the Lithuanian MoD, in the week between May 22 and 28, allied aircraft were called to perform six alert scrambles to identify and escort Russian combat planes flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea.

On May 22 interceptors were scrambled to intercept one An-26 of the Russian Federation flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad Oblast in international airspace over the Baltic sea. The Russian transport plane was flying according to a pre-filed FPL, maintained radio contact with the ATC agencies but had its onboard transponder switched off.

On the same day, another Russian An-26 flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad was intercepted over the Baltic (once again and as usual in international airspace) because the submitted flight plan did not correspond to the actual flight and, although the aircrew had radio contact with the ATC, the transponder was switched off.

On May 23 NATO fighter jets were directed to intercept one Tu-134 of the Russian Federation in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. The twin-engined, narrow-body, transport aircraft was flying inbound to Kaliningrad with the transponder switched off: although the ATC had bilateral radio contact with the Tu-134 (NATO reporting name: Crusty) the flight plan for the aircraft had been submitted behind time.

On May 25 NATO fighters intercepted one an Il-20 Coot spyplane flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. The Il-20 intelligence gathering aircraft did not have a filed FPL, did not maintain radio contact and did not use the onboard transponder, a kind of behaviour that has raised some concern in the past, when Russians spyplanes flying in the vicinity of busy airways have almost collided with civilian traffic in the region as happened for instance on Mar. 3, 2014, when SAS flight SK 681, a Boeing 737 with 132 people on board from Copenhagen to Rome almost collided with an Il-20 Coot, about 50 miles to the southwest of Malmö, Sweden.

On May 26 NATO air policing fighter aircraft intercepted one Russian Tu-134 escorted by two Su-27 Flankers that were flying from Kaliningrad to the mainland Russia in international airspace over the Baltic Sea. Although the Tu-134 had a valid flight plan, the onboard transponder switched on and kept radio contact with the ATC,  the two Su-27s that escorted it till the Gulf of Finland and then returned to Kaliningrad over international waters, had no FPL, onboard transponders off, and did not maintain radio contact with the local air traffic control agencies.

On May 28 NATO aircraft intercepted one An-72 and two escorting Su-27s flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad in international waters over the Baltic Sea. The An-72 was flying according to a pre-filed flight plan, kept radio contact and used the onboard transponder. The Su-27 complied with none of these requirements according to the Lithuanian authorities.

The spike in alert scrambles comes after some weeks of calmness with just six scrambles in the period between March 27 and May 22.

The Polish Air Force carries out the BAP mission with four F-16 fighter aircraft from Poznan deployed to Šiauliai, Lithuania, while the Spanish Air Force deployed five F-18 Hornets from Zaragoza Air Base in Spain, to Ämari, Estonia.

H/T @cezarysta for the heads-up. Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski

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Ramstein Alloy 4 Served To Exercise Baltic Air Policing Alert Aircraft Procedures

Check Out These Awesome Air-to-Air Shots Taken During Ramstein Alloy 4 Exercise.

The fourth edition of the NATO air drills series Ramstein Alloy took place in Baltic airspace, mainly over Lithuania, on Apr. 25 and 26.

Combat planes supporting the Baltic Air Policing mission and belonging to the Royal Netherlands Air Force, German Air Force, Polish Air Force and Royal Norwegian Air Force took part in the exercise alongside transport aircraft from Lithuania, a U.S. tanker and NATO AWACS aircraft undertaking several different missions to exercise BAP alert procedures as well as to enhance relations and interoperability amongst allied Air Forces.

The BAP mission serves to protect the Baltic states airspace. The activity of the Russian Air Force in the area remains one of the main reasons for which the mission has been established, however the NATO assets in the region are also scrambled to intercept civilian aircraft that do not use proper flight plans, transponder codes or which have lost communication with the ATC. And most of the aforesaid procedures were trained during the Ramstein Alloy 4 training event.

A Dutch F-16 escorts the C-27J Spartan.

According to NATO, “participants practiced air intercepts, air to air refueling, search and rescue operations as well as practice diversions, the approaches to different Baltic airfields. Furthermore, involved aircraft also trained intercept procedures for COMLOSS situations, a scenario in which a civilian aircraft loses contact with ground controls and requires midair identification by Air Policing alert jets.”

The RNlAF F-16s involved in the Ramstein Alloy 4 mission that included the escort to the C-27J

Foto Poork’s Filip Modrzejewski took part in the exercise and provided us some stunning air-to-air images taken during Ramstein Alloy.

The photo-shoot took place at the altitudes between 22 and 24,000 feet, with the C-27 Spartan playing the role of a photoship. Due to the scarcity of oxygen available in the air, all of the photos were taken through the Spartan’s windows which, nonetheless remain photographer-friendly, as the images prove.

Dutch F-16s and one of two Typhoons closing on the camera ship’s left wing.

Moreover, taking photos as high also has its advantages, being less dependent on the weather. The shoot involved three formations: 2x F-16s, 2x F-16s + 2x Eurofighters, and, finally, a pair of Eurofighters. The aircraft also performed some breaks, to make the photos even more interesting.

The operation is a sequel to the Baltic Region Training Event (BRTE) series, 20 editions of which preceded the Ramstein Alloy exercise.

The two armed Typhoons break the formation.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski

 

Polish Parliamentary National Defense Committee Discusses the Future of the F-16s and Prospects of Acquiring 5th Gen. Jets

Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense analyzed the current state of the Polish Air Force’s F-16 fighter fleet, its future, as well as plans related to the M-346 AJTs and JASSM / JASSM-ER missiles.

According to the report issued by Tomasz Dmitruk of the Polish “Dziennik Zbrojny” outlet, on Mar. 22, during the meeting of the Polish Parliamentary Committee on National Defense, Division General Pilot Jan Śliwka, who is also acting as the Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, presented the Polish Parliament the history and capabilities possessed by the F-16 multi-role jet aircraft, along with an overview of their technical status, maintenance requirements, armament and pilot’s training program. The General has also talked about the missions assigned to the backbone of the Polish Air Force.

The information presented during the event also provided a unique insight into the operations of the aircraft.

7-8 out of 48 jets are currently undergoing maintenance or overhauls – this constitutes 14-17% of the fleet, still leaving around 85% of the aircraft combat-ready. A single F-16 jet can spend 8,000 hours in the air, which means that total lifetime is equal to 384,000 hours (48 aircraft, 8000 hours each).  Based on the report issued by Dmitruk, all of the Jastrząb (Polish Air Force’s name ascribed to the F-16) jets have spent 53,000 hours in the air so far, which amounts up to 14% of the total lifetime.

This means that, should the operational activity of the jets be maintained at the current level, there is still an option to operate the aircraft for the next 30 years.

Last year we have seen the initial steps related to MLU (Mid-Life Update) of the Polish F-16 fighter fleet, as the Tape M6.5 upgrade has been implemented, following the decision to acquire the new AGM-158A JASSM and AGM-158B JASSM-ER cruise missiles, along with new variants of the AIM-120 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder AAMs (Air-to-Air Missiles).

The Polish Air Force is also looking forward to the acquisition of more Mk 82 bombs and JDAM and Paveway conversion kits.

Nonetheless, during the Committee Meeting, Śliwka informed that the Ministry is also analyzing the potential prospects of acquisition of more armament for the fighter jets which could expand their capabilities in specific domains. Notably, throughout the last two years we have witnessed an intensification of operations undertaken by the Polish F-16s with Warsaw’s Vipers deploying to Kuwait to join the air war against ISIS and plans to take part in the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission.

One of the priorities for the Polish Air Force is to acquire anti-radiation missiles. Orbital ATK’s AARGM missile has been quite intensively marketed in Poland throughout the past two years, so it may be safely stated that this weapon is a serious contender to becoming the primary SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) armament for the Polish jets. Furthermore, the MoD is also scrutinizing the prospects of acquiring new PGM (Precision Guided Munition) ordnance (including submunition pods to act against tanks and armored assets, as well as penetrating bombs which could be used to neutralize fortifications underground); lastly, the Air Force would also like to integrate the jet with an anti-ship missile.

Prospective procurement of new multi-role jets for the Polish Air Force was the second issue covered during the meeting.

This matter is somewhat urgent, since the Su-22 and MiG-29 aircraft are gradually becoming obsolete, with a prospect of being withdrawn starting from 2024-2025.

Their successor, as Dmitruk reports, shall be selected well ahead of the retirement of the two post-Soviet era jets.

According to General Śliwka, quoted by Dziennik Zbrojny, the requirements for the new multi-role combat aircraft have already been defined by the command, while the Armament Inspectorate (Polish MoD’s procurement body) is dealing with an analysis that is going to be included in a Strategic Defense Review, similar to its recent British counterpart.

The options currently weighted and considered, span from the acquisition of second-hand F-16A/B or C/D aircraft with subsequent upgrade, through procurement of brand new F-16s, to the eventual purchase of 5th Gen. F-35 aircraft.

The early conclusions indicate that procurement and upgrade of the Alpha/Bravo Falcons would lack a proper degree of cost-effectiveness.

After further analysis, and with the context taken into account at the MoD, General Staff and the Armament Inspectorate, Bartosz Kownacki, Polish Deputy Minister of Defence stated that the workload and expenditure entailed would be too high, in relation to potential benefits.

Kownacki noted that even though the price of second-hand aircraft would be at the level of 50% of the price of a new aircraft, the operational lifetime would also be 50% shorter. General Śliwka also mentioned the fact that the case of Romanian F-16 procurement was also looked at, and it turned out that the cost was higher, in comparison with potential acquisition of new aircraft. Hence the MoD might be inclined to go on, and join the F-35 users club, even though this is a longterm prospect plan

Meanwhile, the rumors (which circulated last year) that Poland would be considering selling its jets to Romania, have been once again denied.

During the meeting, the opposition also had a chance to ask questions to the Ministry.

First of the covered issues, raised by the former Deputy Minister of Defence Czesław Mroczek, dealt with the procurement of the M-346 jet-trainers and their compliance with the Polish specifications. Col. Waldemar Bogusławski, Deputy Head at the Armament Inspectorate, answered that the manufacturer confirmed its readiness to deliver the AJT [Advanced Jet Trainer] in a configuration compliant with the Polish expectations as late as in July this year.

Second question referred to the JASSM missiles.

General Jan Śliwka announced that one of the Polish Vipers is currently staying in the United States, and the tape M6.5 upgrade has been already introduced in its case. Following a test firing of the missile, the jet is to return back to Poland in April. The remaining aircraft are going to receive the software upgrades domestically, in Poland. Delivery of the first four JASSM missiles is to be finalized by the end of April (the photos published in the social media by the press officer of the Krzesiny 31st Airbase suggest that two missiles have already been delivered).

The 2014 procurement contract assumes that the missiles would be delivered in full between 2018 and 2019, with the AGM-158B JASSM-ER ordnance to follow, and subsequent deliveries scheduled in this case before 2020. The -ER missiles were contracted in December, last year.

Image Credit: Filip Modrzejewski / Foto Poork, W. Mazurkiewicz