On Sept. 17, two Belgian Air Force F-16s deployed to Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania, in support of NATO BAP mission, were scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and two Russian Su-27 Flankers above the Baltic Sea.
It was the first scramble for the Belgian Air Force since it took the lead of the 51st rotation of NATO BAP on Sept. 3. The Belgians have deployed four F-16AM Vipers to Lithuania where the Royal Danish Air Force F-16s operate too. The rotation is augmented by four Czech Grippen aircraft which operate out of Amari airbase in Estonia.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said a few hours later that in addition to the Belgian fighters, the Russian aircraft was also followed by airplanes of the Danish, Polish, Finnish and Swedish air forces.
Russian aircraft have engaged in several provocative actions over NATO airspace this year. In June, British Typhoon fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters twice in two days.
But NATO countries aren’t merely reacting to Russian aggression. In August alone, US and UK aircraft sent clear messages to Russia:
- US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew with UK F-35s, the B-2’s first time flying with non-US F-35s.
- B-2 Spirit bombers landed in Iceland for the first time. The B-2, which operates from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Royal Air Force Fairford in the UK, needs specific conditions to support its stealth capabilities.
- B-2 bombers flew their first extended sorties over the Norwegian Sea earlier in September — right in Russia’s backyard.
NATO countries share the mission of protecting Baltic airspace, as the Baltic countries — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania — don’t have the infrastructure to protect their own airspace and are considered at risk of destabilization or invasion by Russia.