Air police intercept Russian spy craft

F-16 jets from NATO’s Baltic Air Police (BAP) scrambled to the skies Monday to intercept at least one Russian air force reconnaissance plane IL-20 in neutral airspace but very close to Latvia’s territory over the Baltic sea.

According to the Latvian National Armed Forces (NBS) afternoon tweet, the aircraft in question was the Ilyushin IL-20, a spy and command plane referred to by NATO as a ‘coot’.

As reported, Russian military jets and planes have been regularly plying the route between St. Petersburg and the naval base at Kalningrad enclave, which constitutes no violation of international aviation norms as such.

However this year the activity of the Russian air force flights has grown to unprecedented levels, moreover their refusal to post their flight plans or use transponders and other standard aviation communications equipment has raised western nations’ concerns about the safety of civilian airplanes in the skies around them, who cannot otherwise be aware of the Russian presence and movements. In addition, they are regularly skirting so close to the airspace of Latvia and its two Baltic neighbors that the BAP jets are scrambling frequently in due response to prevent a violation.

Last week from December 8th to the 14th marked Russia’s most intense flurry of aircraft activity to date, according to the Lithuanian Defense ministry. Altogether about 80 various planes were spotted buzzing near the Baltic states’ airspace borders in 21 separate scramblings by BAP pilots, some of them repeated times. With only a few exceptions, most of the planes had their transponders turned off.

While not requesting increased air patrols from NATO allies, the three Baltic countries are each raising their budget funding levels for the BAP to sustain it at current levels. Latvia has allocated €3m for the next year and following.

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