Missions OperationsReport

[Report] French Mirages (and Belgian F-16s) over Lithuania

(B2) For the tenth consecutive time since 2004, French planes will be based in the Baltic countries. Ready to face any alert. In particular, Russian military planes are always tempted to cause a little provocation on the borders of the Baltic countries.

Escort of Mirage 2000 (© NGV / B2)

B2 was able to accompany Air Force and Space Force pilots deploying to Lithuania these days. With around twenty journalists from different NATO countries, we took our place aboard an A300M MRTT (1). Departure in the early morning, from the Istres base, in the south of France (the BA 125 for those familiar with air travel). Direction Šiauliai in Lithuania, while the sun is barely peeking over the Mediterranean.

Tenth French participation

For four months, from the end of November 2023 to the end of March 2024, Mirage 2000-5F aircraft will provide air policing over the Baltic countries. Alongside the Belgian and Polish F-16s.

An active presence of allied aircraft in the Baltic skies

This is the tenth participation in monitoring the Baltic sky (Baltic Air Policy), specifies the general staff of the armies, the seventh in Lithuania (2), in 20 years. The allied air presence has, in fact, been reinforced since 2014 and the first Russian military intervention in Ukraine (Crimea and Donbass). It is even more relevant since 2022, and the second Russian intervention in Ukraine (more massive). Resources have been increased.

In relay of Italians and Spaniards

The French are joining a system that has been in place for years. They will be alongside the Belgians who will ensure the Baltic air policing classic. While the Poles will be in Amari (Estonia) relaying the Spaniards. They will have a lot to do. There Quick reaction rapid Italian company carried out, in four months of presence (August 1 to November), 60 alerts. 70% being linked to the overflight of Russian planes to or from the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.

Twice two Mirage

Four Mirage 2000-5F aircraft from the 1/2 “Cigognes” fighter group are deployed for this mission. They will be based in Šiauliai, Lithuania. Mirages generally evolve in pairs. These single-seat fighter planes, normally dedicated to air defense, are capable of preventing any aerial intrusion over a large territory but also of ensuring the protection of bombers or other strategic aircraft. They are equipped with a high-performance multi-target radar and can be equipped with MICA-type air-to-air missiles.

A detachment of around a hundred soldiers

The French Air detachment is made up of around a hundred personnel: six fighter pilots, around forty mechanics, around fifteen air riflemen and commandos, air firefighters (3), as well as service caregivers. of army health, soldiers from the energy service or specialists in information and communication systems (CIS). Which is relatively little in itself. Quite simply because most of the logistics (fuels, etc.) are provided on site, either by the Lithuanians or by other NATO Nations.

Full NATO interoperability

All air actions by allied countries are standardized in NATO-type procedures, well integrated by each force. Standards used both on national soil and in external operations. From flight procedures, landing or in-flight refueling, to multiple details, such as parking signals on a runway, all Alliance aircraft operate according to the same modalities, ensuring " complete interoperability ". What " greatly facilitates interaction between all allies », Testifies Colonel Gaudillière, spokesperson for French army operations, who speaks with full knowledge of the facts (a former Rafale pilot, he also commanded the BA125, the Istres air base).

In-flight refueling of a Finnish F-18 (© NGV / B2)

Objective: Identify and deter

The mission of all aircraft involved in the system responds to a fairly similar operating mode, quite classic in aviation security: which responds to four missions: identify, control, monitor or intercept. Firstly, this involves identifying any suspicious aircraft (“questionable” in aeronautical parlance) entering or flying over Baltic airspace.

Three criteria for assessing a doubtful plane

An aircraft is considered suspicious if it does not meet certain criteria: 1° no radio contact with civil control bodies, 2° no submission of a flight plan or non-compliance with this flight plan , 3° cut-off of the transponder and therefore no means of identifying the aircraft. When in doubt, two planes take off to “ make contact, for verification purposes " with the plane. This is called a “ Alpha scramble ”, for a real alert (to be distinguished from a “ Tango scramble » dedicated to takeoffs for training).

Contact by all means

Concretely, radio contact is made, nearby, by all possible means (UHF, distress channel, etc.). Failing this, visual contact – from cockpit to cockpit – is ensured (via small posters shown by the pilot). If necessary, the plane is escorted until it leaves Baltic airspace, and supported by Polish, Finnish or Swedish planes, depending on its direction (see map).

From simple loss of radio contact to voluntary intention

Sometimes it is a simple loss of radio contact with the ground (breakdown or failure), then for NATO aircraft it is a matter of “provide in-flight assistance » to the aircraft in distress, to escort it and guide it if necessary to its destination or (in the event of an emergency), the nearest terrain. This is often the case for civil aircraft. For Russian aircraft (military and sometimes civilian), the situation is different. Russian planes deliberately cut off their transponders or transgress their flight plans.

The FIR or territorial space?

Important clarification: Russian planes do not generally violate Baltic airspace, in the territorial sense of the term. They operate on the fringes of it, in the FIR, the area of ​​responsibility of air traffic control in one of the Baltic countries. All to provoke or “ stimulate » Baltic air traffic control. These flights are sometimes very provocative, coinciding with particular events (national holiday, visit by a personality from a NATO country). History for Moscow to leave its mark on the area.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, on board an MRTT and in Siauliai in Lithuania)

Also read our [Memo Sheet] NATO aerial surveillance over the Baltic countries

  1. It is now the standard multirole aircraft of the Air Force (with the A400M) allowing the transport of people, freight and the wounded (with the Morphée kit allowing a real emergency room). flying resuscitation) or in-flight refueling. The Air Force already has 12 aircraft of this type. 15 at maturity are planned.
  2. The previous ones took place in 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2016 and 2022.
  3. Most of the deployed aviators come from the 2nd fighter wing, stationed at the BA116 air base in Luxeuil-Saint-Sauveur. A unit heir to the legendary Stork squadron.

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

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