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NATO intercepts of Russian aircraft return to pre-Ukrainian war levels

A UK F-35B flying from HMS Queen Elizabeth intercepted a Russian Ilyushin Il-22 Coot special mission aircraft on 6 October. NATO has reported a drop in alliance interceptions of Russian military aircraft for 2023 compared with the spike of 2022, with numbers now at about the same level as before the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. (Royal Norwegian Air Force)

The number of NATO intercepts of Russian military aircraft fell in 2023 to approximately the same levels as before the war in Ukraine was launched in early 2022.

Figures released by the alliance on 29 December show that for 2023 NATO conducted โ€œwell over 300โ€ interceptions of Russian military aircraft approaching member state airspace (each interception may involve multiple Russian aircraft). This was a marked decline from the 570 times reported for 2022, and more in line with the 290 times reported for 2021 and the 350 times reported for 2020.

According to the alliance, across all years, most of the encounters between NATO and Russian aircraft have occurred over the Baltic region where NATO operates an air-policing mission for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Allied aircraft stationed in Poland also contribute to this mission.

During 2023, this Baltic Air Policing mission was flown on rotation by French Air and Space Force Dassault Rafales and Dassault Mirage 2000s; Royal Netherlands Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning IIs; UK Royal Air Force, Spanish Air and Space Force, and Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons; and Portuguese Air Force, Romanian Air Force, Belgian Air Component, and Polish Air Force Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.

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