NATO faces a growing Russian threat

The United States Air Forces in Europe (USAFE) announced it has deployed MQ-9 Reaper RPA to Mirosławiec Air Base in Poland in May. USAFE was at pains to point out that the aircraft will be unarmed and will perform as surveillance platforms and that the United States has a longstanding security relationship with Poland. Mirosławiec is about 200 miles (120km) from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, well within the Reaper’s 1,000-mile (1,600km) range. In March, the US Air Force announced it had deployed other Reapers to Larisa Air Base in Greece. NATO began air policing missions over Montenegrin airspace on June 5. Montenegro, which lacks fighter aircraft of its own, joined NATO in June 2017. Italy’s Aeronautica Militare (Air Force) and Greece’s Elliniki Polemiki Aeroporia (Hellenic Air Force) shared the duty with both nation using F-16s which, in contrast to other NATO air policing missions, will fly from their home nations. This extends existing arrangements whereby Greece and Italy already provide similar cover for Albania and Slovenia.

NATO air policing missions seek to safeguard the integrity of the alliance’s airspace, and under NATO regulations member air forces must have at least two fighter aircraft on 24/7 readiness to tackle unidentified or suspicious aerial activity. Allies with no air force can seek multinational solutions to guard their airspace. The Baltic Air Policing mission to secure air space belonging to NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia is perhaps the most well-known mission under the scheme. The Royal Air Force and Aeronautica Militare support air patrols over the Black Sea from Romania and Bulgaria under the Southern Air Policing mission.

UK Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson announced on June 7 the Royal Air Force will deploy to Estonia and Iceland as part of the NATO air policing mission in 2019. It will be the first RAF deployment to Iceland in support of air policing. Four Typhoons will deploy to Estonia in mid-2019 for the first time since 2016, with a further four making the Iceland deployment towards the end of next year.