Feb 23, 2015

Spanish Eurofighters eye the Russians at 300 meters

Planes from Group 11 of the Spanish Air Force have been in control of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission (BAPM), based in Ämari, since January 1 and will continue there until May 4.
So far, the Eurofighters have conducted 108 patrols, clocking up nearly 200 hours of flight time. Only one flight had to be canceled because of technical problems.
But the fears are real and the tension exists.
Along the icy waters of the Baltic, two old Cold War adversaries can look directly into each others’ eyes at distances sometimes as close as 300 meters – that is how near Spanish Eurofighters have come to Russian aircraft during the interceptions that have taken place.
These testy encounters have occurred about half-a-dozen times when Russian Ilyushin and Antonov transport planes – modified for spying or electronic warfare – fly from St Petersburg to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad Oblast, between Lithuania and Poland.
Although the Russian jets have not violated Baltic airspace, they ignore international air navigation rules by not filing a flight plan, turning off their transponders so they can’t be identified, or refusing to communicate with civil aviation authorities.
The Spanish Eurofighters usually intercept and escort them under the orders of NATO’s Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC), based in Uedem, Germany.
Commander Eladio Daniel Leal said the tensest moments usually occur when the alarm goes off and “you just don’t know who you are going to encounter, or how they are going to react.”
NATO has been helping the Baltic nations patrol their airspace since 2004 as none of them has an air force of their own.
Besides the Spanish EF-2000s, fighter jets have also been dispatched from Italy, Poland and Belgium.
According to NATO figures, more than 400 interceptions of Russian planes by the Alliance’s jets occurred last year – more than double the number in 2013.
Last month, two Russian Tupolev Tu-95 bombers ventured as far as the English Channel, setting off an emergency dispatch of British and French jets.elpais

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