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A pair of Eurofighter Typhoons, one from the Royal Air Force (RAF) and one from the Luftwaffe, carried out their first joint interception as part of the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission on 14 March 2023. They were scrambled to intercept a Russian Il-78 ‘Midas’ air-to-air refuelling aircraft near Estonian airspace after it failed to communicate with air traffic control in Estonia.

After visually identifying and then escorting the Il-78, which was flying between St Petersburg and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, the pair of Typhoons were then re-tasked to intercept a Russian An-148 regional airliner, of which the Russian Air Force is the largest operator, which was also passing Estonian airspace.

The joint Luftwaffe/RAF BAP mission is based out of Ämari Air Base in northern Estonia and went live on 6 March. It involves 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). The mission is currently being led by the Luftwaffe, with the RAF taking over command in April, with joint missions flown until the end of that month.

The RAF Typhoon pilot involved in this first interception was quoted by the UK MoD as saying, “As a fighter pilot this was a routine business, even though I was flying alongside a German colleague. It is clear that all of our training and hard work paid off as we seamlessly operated together.”

The commander of the RAF’s 140 EAW, Wing Commander Scott Maccoll, added: “It was great to see the UK and German elements operate as one team. As NATO continually adapts its structures and workforce, today shows us the next evolution.”

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