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Joint NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) missions involving German and British Eurofighter Typhoons have begun, the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) announced on 6 March 2023.

The joint force, which is located at Ämari Air Base in northern Estonia,includes four Eurofighters from the Luftwaffe’s 71 Tactical Air Wing ‘Richthofen’ and four Typhoons from the Royal Air Force’s (RAF’s) IX (Bomber) Squadron operating as part of the RAF’s 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW). This joint detachment – the first of its kind – will operate under German command until the end of March, after which the German fighters will remain in Estonia throughout April with the mission under British command. The Luftwaffe has been in Estonia since August 2022.

Quoted in a UK Ministry of Defence press release on 6 March, Wing Commander Scott Maccoll, Commanding Officer of 140 EAW, said: “Today marks a great ‘first’ for our two air forces. We have been working together for some time and the level of co-operation has now reached a new level. It continues to be an absolute pleasure to work with our German allies on all aspects of our mission, from maintenance and operation of the jets to planning and logistic activities. I would also like to thank our Estonian hosts; they are vital to what we have achieved here.”

Luftwaffe and RAF Typhoons on the tarmac at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, where integrated Baltic Air Policing operations involving the two air forces have now begun. (Bundeswehr)

The two air forces have been conducting exercises and deployments together for several years, but the level of integration in Estonia is a first for NATO air policing. For a week in February, to prepare for the BAP mission specifically, the 71 Tactical Air Wing, normally based in Wittmund, Lower Saxony, deployed a detachment to RAF Lossiemouth in Scotland, where IX (Bomber) Squadron is based. Training conducted at this time included integrated quick-reaction alert (DRA)procedures and air-to-air refuelling from an RAF Voyager tanker aircraft. In addition to the flying training, a team of 18 Luftwaffe engineers conducted cross-training between German and RAF versions of the Typhoon.

The first RAF Typhoon then landed at Ämari Air Base on 2 March prior to integrated Luftwaffe/RAF operations, which feature QRA sorties conducted with one Eurofighter from each air force, going live on 6 March.

Fighter detachments from NATO countries have been policing the skies over the Baltic states on four-month rotations since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance but did not have the aircraft to secure their own airspace. The mission was initially mounted out of Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, but since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, NATO has also been using Ämari Air Base to deploy air policing assets. As part of its enhanced air policing efforts NATO also deploys additional aircraft to Poland and augments the national air policing capabilities of the Bulgarian and Romanian air forces.

Peter Felstead