The visit to Siauliai airbase, in Lithuania, main operating base of NATO’s BAP (Baltic Air Patrol) mission was preceded by a presentation of the NATO E-3 AWACS component E-3A at the 1st Airlift Base of the Polish Air Force in Warsaw. A visit that marked the surveillance plane’s 1,000th operational flight at NATO’s eastern flank since the beginning of Ukraine crisis.
The Boeing surveillance aircraft, one of the 16 E-3A AWACS planes based at Geilenkirchen, in Germany, was welcome to Warsaw by F-16 and MiG-29 jet fighters from the 31 and 23 Airbases of the Polish Air Force.
Besides the Director of the Arms Policy Department, Col. Karol Dymanowski, the E-3 visit to Poland was the opportunity to celebrate the 1,000 sorties of the NATO’s primary Airborne Early Warning & Control platform in eastern Europe with a meeting attended by Deputy Commander of the Polish Armed Forces, Div. Gen. Jan Śliwka, commander of the Geilenkirchen NATO E-3A Component Brig. Gen. Karsten Stoye, along with the crew of the AWACS aircraft.
Interestingly, 5 members of the multinational aircrew were Polish.
E-3A Sentry aircraft have been operating inside the Polish airspace since the 2000. Once Poland joined the NAPMO (NATO Early Warning and Control Program Management Organization) program, along with 15 other countries, Warsaw acquired a right to use the fleet of the 17 AWACS platforms that remain at the NATO’s disposal. Besides Geilenkirchen, the jets are also authorized to use the Polish airbases, such as the Powidz 33rd Airlift Base which is visited by them quite frequently.
AWACS airframes were involved in operations over Poland for the first time during the Fruit Fly/Eagle Talon exercise back in 2006, which was the first exercise with the participation of Sentry, following the acquisition of the F-16 Block 52+ jets, ten years ago On the other hand, the Geilenkirchen-based aircraft also provide support in organization of mass events, such as the Euro Football Cup organized back in 2012, or the visit of Pope Benedict XVI.
This year, E-3A component participated in and supported the ANAKONDA-16 exercise, NATO Summit in Warsaw and the World Youth Day, as well as the Baltic Air Policing operation. According to the release issued by the Polish MoD, the Geilenkirchen component has also been closely cooperating with the Polish fighter pilots of the 1st and 2nd Tactical Aviation Wings, since 2015.
The operations undertaken by the airborne radar are also tied to a number of NATO initiatives, including the aforementioned BAP mission as well as the rotational presence of the NATO forces in the region, within the framework of the Operation Atlantic Resolve.
The E-3A airborne radar is available to the member states during the crisis, as well as during the exercises concerning the IADS (Integrated Air Defense System) or other significant allied training initiatives.
On Jul. 2, eight F-15C Eagles belonging to the 131st Fighter Squadron, Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts, and the 194th Fighter Squadron, Fresno Air National Guard Base, California, depolyed to the 71st airbase Campia Turzii, Romania, to take part in exercise Dacian Eagle 2016.
The arrival of these F-15s occurred on the same day the Romanian Air Force MiG-21s returned home after a few months deployment at the 95th Airbase in Bacau, while the runway at Campia Turzii was being repaired.
Both aircraft types will take part in Dacian Eagle between July and September.
According to the Romanian Air Force, along with 200 American personnel from the California and Massachusetts ANG, more than 200 romanian pilots and technical personnel from the 71st Airbase are taking part with MiG 21 LancerRs and IAR 330 Puma helicopters (SOCAT and MEDEVAC) in the traditional drills at the 71st airbase with the purpose of increasing the level of preparation and interoperability between the participants.
“The excercise is an opportunity to practice the techniques, tactics and standard procedures common in air operations, according to NATO standards by performing flights in cooperations with the American partners” and to deter further Russian aggression….
The LanceRs are modernized MiG-21s that were given new avionics for all-weather operations, more modern avionics and the ability to employ PGMs (Precision Guided Munitions).
Although they have a limited endurance (30-45 minutes “play time”), the LanceRs are fast and maneuverable and quite good to perform the adversary role against more modern fighters.
They will start being replaced by F-16 MLUs starting this autumn.
Interestingly, as noted by Interfax, the aircraft deployed more or less as an RC-135W from RAF Mildenhall carried out a routine (intelligence gathering) mission over the Baltic Sea using radio callsign “Abilo 71”.
Indeed, violations of the Turkish airspace were reported few days after the Russian Air Force contingent deployed to Latakia, in northwestern Syria, started pounding FSA and IS targets across the country.
On Oct. 3 and 4, NATO said a Russian Air Force Su-30SM and Su-24 aircraft violated Ankara’s sovereign airspace in the Hatay region in spite of “clear, timely and repeated warnings.” In that case, the RuAF admitted the violations, claiming they were due to “navigation errors.” TuAF F-16s in QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) were scrambled to identify the intruder, after which the Russian planes departed Turkish airspace. During the Oct. 3 incident, the Russian Su-30SM maintained a radar lock on one or both the F-16s for a full 5 minutes and 40 seconds: a quite unusual and provoking conduct by the Russian pilots.
Following the first incidents, Ankara said it would shot down any aircraft violating their sovereign airspace as done in the past with a Syrian Mig-23, a Mi-17 and an Iranian made Mohajer 4 UAV.
Whilst the alleged violation of the Turkey-Syria border by the Russian Su-24 is far from being unexpected considered the amount of intrusions reported since the beginning of October, far more surprising is the news that the Russians have also violated the Israeli airspace more than once in the past weeks.
“Russian pilots occasionally cross into Israeli airspace, but due to excellent defense coordination that began with Netanyahu’s meeting with Putin in which limits were set, the Israel Defense Forces and the Russian military agreed on security arrangements,” said General (res.) Amos Gilad, head of the Israeli Defense Ministry’s political-security division, as reported to Israeli media outlets.
The security protocol established between Israel and Russia should prevent incident like the one of Nov. 24 and the subsequent diplomatic crisis.
He added, “In the understandings with the Russians, we retain freedom of action in our attempts to prevent weapons getting through from Iran to Hezbollah.”
Greece claims 10 miles of air space around a chain of Greek islands lined up along the Turkish west coast, part of those are in very close proximity to the mainland, while Turkey recognizes only six miles (that is to say the extent of the Greek territorial waters, recognized by each other).
Many of the incidents take place within the four-mile radius, which Athens considers its sovereign airspace and Ankara considers international one; however, according to several reports, there are a number of unauthorised Turkish military flights directly over Greek islands themselves.
An article published by Politico last summer reported figures from research at the University of Thessaly, according to which there were 2,244 incursions of Turkish fighter jets and helicopters in 2014 alone.
Although it’s unclear how many of those +2,000 occurred within the contentious 4NM airspace (nor do we know the figures of the Greek violations logged on average by the Turkish Air Force besides this data from 2012), it’s quite clear that a border incident similar to the Russian Su-24 shoot-down is always around the corner over the Aegean Sea. Like the one that led to dogfight and subsequent a mid-air collision in 2006 (causing the death of a Greek pilot).
Anyway, although they were pretty upset by the Russian violation on Nov. 24, the Turkish authorities should be quite used to such kind of incursions, from both the intruder and the intruded standpoint.
Image credit: Russian MoD (Top), Politico (Bottom).
Along with the F-22s, four F-16s from the 480th Fighter Squadron, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, taking part in bilateral training with the Polish Air Force (during which they will be joined by additional F-16s from the 176th Fighter Squadron, Wisconsin Air National Guard, in early September) deployed to Lask.