Two U.S. fighter jets under NATO command were scrambled from the Siauliai air base in Lithuania Tuesday (1 April 2014) to exercise with two Swedish Gripen fighter aircraft over the Baltic Sea, in a training event designed to improve coordination and emergency procedures.
The Baltic Regional Training event is conducted several times a year. The exercises bring fighter jets from NATO countries together with the air forces of Sweden and Finland, which are longstanding partners of the Alliance. Search & Rescue and air combat training are included in the two-day event, which is designed to enhance the ability of fighter jets from NATO countries and regional partners to operate with each other effectively.
For the past ten years, air forces across NATO member states have patrolled the skies over the Baltic Allies – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – on a rotational basis, as the three Allies do not have fighter aircraft of their own. NATO’s air-policing mission protects the safety and integrity of Alliance airspace on a 24/7 basis.
The United States is currently responsible for policing Baltic airspace, from January to April 2014. For US Air Force Captain Tyler Clark, the chance to work with the Swedish air force is an important part of his mission. “Today’s scramble had us training with the Swedish Air Force to assist an aircraft which was simulating a loss of all communications, this kind of training is invaluable,” he said. “NATO’s airspace borders that of Sweden and Finland and we have to work together to ensure safety of all our airways.”
NATO normally has four to six fighter jets deployed for the air-policing rotations. In light of the current crisis in Ukraine, the United States has reinforced the air-policing mission with additional aircraft. Many European Allies have also offered additional planes to the mission.