NATO tests integration of fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft over Baltic

On June 29-30 NATO members and partners conducted air exercises over the Baltic Sea and the Baltic states. Twenty aircraft from NATO members Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain, Turkey and NATO Enhanced Opportunities Partner Finland participated in second iteration of the Ramstein Alloy exercise. The alliance gave its account of the event the headline of Allies and Partners Test 4th and 5th Generation Interoperability in Baltic Region.

The fifth-generation aircraft involved was an Italian F-35 stealth multirole combat aircraft, the first time a fifth-generation aircraft has been deployed for NATO Air Policing. Italy, the U.S., Britain and Israel recently conducted joint F-35 maneuvers in Italy.

As part of what appears to be designed to keep Russian radar and military observers on a 365-days-a-year alert in the region, coming as the drills did immediately on the heels of the large-scale Baltic Operations (BALTOPS) war games, the new exercise was conducted in conjunction with the NATO Air Policing mission based in the Ämari Air Base in Estonia which, with the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, has hosted regular rotations of multinational NATO combat aircraft for years, in the second case since 2004.

The location of the bases and the unintermittent patrols are of course dangerously close to Russia’s Kaliningrad territory and to Belarus. The NATO mission is described as defensive, as everything the military bloc that has waged unprovoked wars in three continents does is characterized.

Finnish F/A-18 training with German Typhoons. Note the markings on the two further planes. NATO photograph.

Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland all host NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups and some 6,000 U.S. troops with armored vehicles as part of Operation Atlantic Resolve. Last week the the chief of Russia’s General Staff, General Valery Gerasimov, said of such deployments: “Up to 10,000 troops from the alliance’s extra-regional countries are stationed in Eastern Europe on a permanent basis.”

This year’s Ramstein Alloy included for the first time a Turkish Air Force E-7A Peace Eagle flying to the Baltics as one of 20 combat aircraft and NATO E-3A AWACS.

Of the latter, NATO’s Allied Air Command said: “Besides the rotating Baltic Air Policing nations, the exercise brings together regional Allies and Partners to practice simulated scenarios such as communications loss and slow mover intercepts. The same applies to Air Command and Control that is practised during air-to-air combat training which will be provided by NATO E-3A….”

NATO air policing: air-to-air combat.

The NATO account of the exercise offers this background: “The Ramstein Alloy series provides a vital opportunity to exercise all these crucial standards of air safety and security with several different assets and nations. It is often used by Allied and Partner air forces to conduct currency training for their fighter jets, airborne early warning aircraft and tanker aircraft.”

For over twelve years NATO’s Allied Air Command at Ramstein and NATO’s Northern Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany have held Air Policing exercises out of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.