The German Air Force (GAF) is not seeing a more confrontational attitude from Russian pilots it is intercepting over the Baltic region, despite concerns being raised by Western leaders of increased aggression over recent weeks.
Speaking during a media tour of Amari Air Base, Estonia, on 17 December, the GAF's detachment commander Lieutenant Colonel Gordon Schnitger said that the Russians that his pilots have encountered since they took on the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission in September have not shown any particular signs of hostility.
"We have seen no change in behaviour from the Russian pilots," he said. "Our task is to ID them, not to harass them. Our aim is to be visible to them, and so we don't fly our normal tactics which would have us trying to sneak up on them. There is no [combat manoeuvring] from us or them."
Over recent weeks, NATO and Western leaders have accused the Russian Air Force of being more aggressive with its air patrolling. In late October the US government referred to the increased Russian air activity as constituting "political sabre-rattling" and "aggression", while on 1 December UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that "extremely aggressive" probing of the country's airspace by Russian military aircraft was concerning him.
However, while Lt Col Schnitger said that his pilots have not been involved in any direct confrontations with Russian pilots, he did note the marked increase in quick reaction alert scrambles that his four Eurofighter Typhoon combat aircraft have had to undertake to deal with a marked increase in Russian air activity.
According to the colonel, 255 Alpha-Scrambles (quick reaction alert responses to Russian air activity) and Tango-Scrambles (training alerts, which can be re-rolled as interceptions if required) had been launched since the GAF's Tactical Air Force Wing (Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader: TaktLwG) 74 took on the air-policing role at Amari Air Base in September. This is a marked increase over previous deployments conducted by the GAF over previous years, he said.
With four Typhoons in Estonia and another two on standby in Germany (ready to deploy to Amari within 96 hours if required), the GAF is providing support to the four Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Portuguese Air Force and the four Boeing CF-18 Hornets of the Canadian Air Forces at Siauliai Airbase in Lithuania, and to the four F-16s of the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) at Malbork Airbase in Poland.
The German detachment comprises approximately 150 personnel, including 8 pilots and about 70 maintainers. Germany has also deployed a small number of medical and security staff also.
Amari Air Base was stood up to bolster the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission in May, with the RDAF being the first to arrive with four F-16s (two more being on standby in Denmark). The Estonian Air Force base commander Lieutenant Colonel Rauno Sirk said that his Estonian personnel have no problem working with different foreign forces.
"We have been in NATO for over 10 years now, so its procedures and standards are already well known to us. There are some difference in the aircraft types [of the Danes and Germans], but we have been able to deal with those. There are no challenges for us with the foreign forces," he said.
As disclosed by Lt Col Sirk, NATO has decided to continue its use of Amari for its air-policing mission until at least the end of 2015, with the Spanish set to take over from the Germans on 2 January, to be followed in May by the British, who in turn will be followed in September by the Germans again.
"It is going to be a very entertaining year for us," he noted.