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Euronews joins NATO pilots training to intercept Russian aircraft in Alliance airspace

NATO Aircraft on training mission
NATO Aircraft on training mission Copyright euronews
Copyright euronews
By Mihaela Barbu and Philip-Andrew Churm
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NATO forces increase simulations and training exercises to help air forces intercept potential Russian aircraft from entering its airspace

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NATO forces have been intensifying their efforts to enable them to intercept Russian aircraft entering the alliance's airspace since the war in Ukraine began.

Alliance pilots are conducting regular training missions to improve their effectiveness; as Euronews was invited to observe. 

In a simulated exercise, an aircraft took off from the Netherlands towards Lithuania and served as a target. The plane was then "intercepted" by Czech fighter jets.

In the scenario, the multi-role aircraft carrying the journalist was intercepted several times during the flight by fighter jets, such as F16, F18 or Eurofighter Typhoon. 

Increasing Russian threats

The aircraft belong to the NATO Air Forces member states and perform Air Policing missions to keep the Alliance airspace safe from any threats.

The air policing military train themselves around the clock as Russian jets increasingly threaten NATO airspace.

In Romania, NATO pilots conducted around 160 real interceptions last year; three times more than in 2021.

Harold van Pee is a Commander of the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem.

"In the South [of Europe], where we have Ukraine and the Black Sea are, it is more complicated than it used to be because there is a war going over there," he explains.

"It is more difficult for the NATO countries in the South to deal with this situation than it is for countries in the North, where there still have the same borders as before February of last year."

Air Policing

Every day, about 30 Alliance planes patrol the airspace of member states. Some of them carry out Air Policing missions in Baltic countries that do not have fighter jets of their own.

A Romanian military detachment, flying four F16 aircraft, has been deployed at a military base in Lithuania since March; its first foreign mission.

Cosmin Vlad, Commander of an F16 Detachment in Lithuania, told journalists: "All you've seen are the operations we do in case of a real alert, to be always prepared, we carry these exercises almost daily."

The detachment's head of maintenance formation, Alexandru Năsturel, added: "It's a good opportunity to put into practice all the training we did back home and with other partners."

After leaving Lithuania, the Airbus playing the role of the target was intercepted by the Romanian pilots. It then returned to the Netherlands crossing the airspace of Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain. In each country, interceptions were simulated.

Several fighter jets were also refuelled mid-flight by the multi-role tanker transporter which belongs to the Multinational Multirole Unit. This includes six NATO countries and reports to the NATO Support and Procurement Agency.

The unit can execute missions internationally and is scheduled to be fully operational in about two years.  The multi-role aircraft could be deployed on long-haul missions in other countries.

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