A pair of Italian Air Force-operated Eurofighter F-2000As were scrambled from Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania to intercept an unidentified aircraft flying over the Baltic Sea on February 17.
The two multi-role fighters were launched to intercept the unidentified aircraft after receiving a scramble order from NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, Germany. Known as Air Task Force ‘Baltic Thunder’, the detachment of Italian Eurofighters arrived in Lithuania on September 1, 2020, to take over the responsibility of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. This latest operation marked the first quick reaction alert (QRA) launch for the Italian detachment in 2021 and was the 20th scramble to take place since the Italian F-2000As arrived at Šiauliai.
In a press release, the Italian Ministry of Defence (MOD) stated that the Eurofighters reached the unidentified aircraft and were able to identify it within minutes of being launched. It added that the two multi-role fighters escorted the aircraft while following NATO procedures, before returning to Šiauliai. The MOD did not disclose what the unknown aircraft was or who it was operated by in the release, although it stated that is was “passing through the airspace falling within the area of responsibility of the [BAP] mission.”
The MOD added: “The QRA service is made possible by the work of the alarm team, each consisting of a pilot, two aircraft chiefs and two armourers. In particular, the two aircraft chiefs are in charge of the final inspection of the aircraft before it takes readiness, assisting the pilot in ground operations, while the gunsmiths are in charge of checking and securing the aircraft’s armament systems.”
NATO’s BAP mission began in March 2004 and was established to provide QRA coverage over the Baltic region as its resident nations lack their own national air defence capabilities. The Italian Air Force has supported the initiative since the beginning, having conducted numerous rotational deployments to the Baltic states since 2004. The current deployment is made up of air/ground crews and aircraft from the Italian Air Force’s 4th, 36th and 37th Stormo (Wing).