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NATO reports fall in interception of Russian aircraft over previous year

Turkish Air Force F-16s participated in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission in 2021, accounting for a number of the 290 interceptions of Russian aircraft that the alliance reported across Europe during the year. (NATO Allied Air Command)

NATO has reported a fall in the number of Russian military aircraft that were intercepted by alliance air policing missions in 2021.

The Allied Air Command disclosed its interception figures for the year on 28 December, noting that there had been 290 interceptions of Russian military aircraft over the previous 12 months. This compared with 350 interceptions in 2020.

โ€œNATO fighter jets scrambled around 370 times across Europe in 2021, mostly to check aircraft flying unannounced near allied air space. Around 80% of the missions, 290 in total, were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft,โ€ NATO said.

As noted by the command, most of these interceptions occurred in the Baltic region where NATO operates an air-policing mission for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. During 2021 this Baltic Air Policing mission was flown on rotation by Italian Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35As and Eurofighter Typhoons, Spanish Air Force Typhoons, Turkish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons, Royal Danish Air Force F-16s, Portuguese Air Force F-16s, Polish Air Force F-16s, and Belgian Air Component F-16s.

Launched in 2004, the Baltic Air Policing mission was expanded by NATO in 2014 in response to Russia's annexation of Crimea and the crisis in Ukraine. At that time, the alliance was especially concerned about Russian aircraft transiting the Baltic region (usually from the St Petersburg area to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, and vice-versa) without transponders, without filing flight plans, and doing so without interacting with civilian air traffic control.

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