British, French and German warplanes simulated flight interceptions over Western Europe on Wednesday as part of NATO exercises to dissuade Russian aircraft from entering Allied airspace and show European efforts to integrate their air defenses.
Fighter pilots carrying air-to-air missiles from 10 NATO nations took turns to simulate the interception of a Belgian air force transport plane en route to Spain, performing visual inspections of the aircraft's state by flapping at speeds of 560 mph
Some 60 NATO aircraft, mainly European allies, are alert to defend the airspace of the alliance, while NATO deals with a dramatic increase in Russian air activity on its borders since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, with a record of 870 interceptions in the Baltic countries. 2016
These two Italian Typhoon aircraft were part of an exercise involving 60 NATO aircraft to practice interdiction drills to dissuade the Russian military from approaching the Allied airspace.
This Belgian military pilot talks to a fellow aviator during the exercise in Italy
The Czech fighters of Gripen, in the photo, were among the various fighter jets in the exercise
This month, Moscow has its biggest war games since the fall of the Soviet Union, with around 1,000 aircraft.
& # 39; NATO is relevant. This is not theoretical, "said Lieutenant General of the Spanish Air Force Ruben Garcia Servert aboard the Belgian military transport plane, while Italian Eurofighters flew near the cockpit to simulate interceptions, then included British Typhoons and French Mirages.
"We have not always been successful in showing the taxpayer that we have the means and capabilities to protect the population," he told Reuters during a public sample of airborne interceptions.
European allies hope that such deployments will highlight how their air forces are defending Europe in the face of strong criticism from US President Donald Trump, who at a summit in July sharply criticized Europeans for not spending enough on defense and ports.
Able to divert, land or even shoot down combat aircraft, NATO says that its so-called aerial surveillance is not aimed at Russia. But clashes between rival fighter jets in the Baltic and the Black Sea are intensifying.
Two US jets escorted two Russian bombers over the Arctic Ocean on September 7 in the latest incident, while Russia has scrambled warplanes to intercept American bombers with nuclear capability in interceptions that echo the Cold War.
The personnel of the Combined Air Operations Center in Torrejón, Spain monitored the exercise
The Belgian F-16 has intercepted an air force transport plane as part of the simulation
Analysts warn that any collision in the air over the Mediterranean, the Baltic or the Black Sea could put at risk the beginning of a wider conflict with Russia.
Both sides accuse the other of dangerous pilot behavior, but NATO says that Russian warplanes fly regularly without respecting international safety standards, such as responding to air traffic control and requests to identify themselves. Russia says that all its flights are carried out in accordance with international law.
"We have seen planes that arrive at our borders without flight plans, without any type of controls … safety standards that enter our area," said García Severt.
"We have seen frequent activities in the Black Sea, but not only, sometimes we have seen planes flying through Europe," he said, referring to Russian bombers off the coast of Portugal.
These German Eurofighters also intercepted a Belgian transport plane as part of the simulation
The transport plane was intercepted later by a couple of Hungarian Gripens in Hungary
NATO will carry out its largest exercise since 2002 in October and November in Norway, called Trident Juncture, and will involve Finland and Sweden that do not belong to NATO, with more than 40,000 troops.
While tensions with Russia have already led NATO to deploy multinational ground battalions in Poland and the Baltic countries, NATO is also pushing to integrate its air forces, despite political resistance on issues of sovereignty.
Under a negotiated agreement, the air forces of the NATO countries would defend the airspace of each one, regardless of the country in which they are located, under a concept of "unique sky". that could see the Portuguese airplanes defending Spanish airspace, for example.
Today, each nation defends its own airspace, unless, as in the case of the Baltic countries, it does not have combat aircraft. (Reporting by Robin Emmott, Edition by Hugh Lawson)
This Typhoon RAF intercepted the Belgian transport plane over Great Britain
The Belgian transport plane was also intercepted by this French Mirage plane