U.S. Air Forces Europe has released previously unseen video of two intercepts of Russian fighters that occurred last fall over the Baltic.
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The videos were released as part of an effort to highlight the U.S. military’s participation in the NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltics.
The U.S. is among the NATO member countries that routinely rotate aircraft and personnel to the Baltic countries on short deployments.
Their mission is to be ready to intercept Russian aircraft that fly into the airspace around the Baltic Sea without filing a flight plan, don’t communicate civilian air traffic controllers or don’t turn on the transponders that identify them as belonging to the Russian military.
“Such aircraft create unsafe environments including air-to-air mishaps or these actions may indicate hostile acts such as hijackings,” says a factsheet about the mission posted on a NATO website. “Air Policing responses seek to ensure the safety of the airspace and its users.”
For the last four months the 493rd Fighter Squadron has been in Lithuania leading the NATO policing mission and conducted about 30 intercepts of Russian aircraft.
The videos shows two intercepts of Russian fighters on November 23 and December 13 that occurred in the international airspace above the Baltic Sea. In each case two F-15's intercepted two Russian
A U.S. Air Forces Europe press release says both intercepts were initiated "because the Russian aircraft did not broadcast the appropriate codes required by air traffic control and had no flight plan on file."
Lt. Col. Cody Blake, the commander of the 493rd squadron says the intercepts “don't happen on a day to day basis but it is a routine thing." adding "they're always conducted in a safe and professional manner." Blake said the intercepts ensure the sovereignty of the airspace of Baltic countries.
U.S. military and defense officials regularly state that the majority of air encounters with Russian aircraft are safe and professional, however it is the “unsafe and unprofessional” encounters that make the news.
In those cases it’s less about how close the aircraft come to each other than the flight behavior demonstrated by Russian pilots towards American aircraft.
The Air Force’s video release also includes behind the scenes footage shot in 2014 that shows quickly putting on their gear on short notice to scramble for an intercept.