In the early morning of May 14, the Italian Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35 pilots deployed to Ämari Air Base, Estonia, supporting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, executed their first intercept since they arrived in early May.
The Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, recorded an unidentified track in the Baltic Sea ordered flying from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad and ordered an alert scramble for the F-35s mission to identify that track. Upon take- off, the Italian NATO aircraft approached and identified a Russian Air Force Antonov An-12 transport aircraft executing the first ever intercept by an F-35 under NATO orders in the Baltic Sea.
The Russian military transport plane was flying over international waters close to the Estonian coast; it was not on a flight plan and not sending a transponder signal causing a potential risk to other airspace users. Upon completing the identification, the Italian fighter aircraft returned to Ämari Air Base.
“The integration of the F-35 advanced capabilities demonstrates how the Allies bring their cutting-edge technology and support NATO’s enduring defensive mission in the region,” said Brigadier General Andrew Hansen, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at Allied Air Command. “The mission in the Baltics epitomises NATO cohesion and solidarity; at Ämari, the deployed Allied fighter detachments have enabled us at AIRCOM to flexibly conduct the mission and at the same time assure the Baltic populations of NATO’s commitment,” General Hansen added.
Since 2004 Allies and NATO have collectively secured the airspace above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania; starting ten years later, in 2014, 22 NATO fighter detachments have seamlessly operated out of Ämari with the Italian F-35s being the latest to safeguard the Baltic NATO skies.