In the same flight, French Rafales intercepted two different groups of Russian military aircraft approaching Baltic airspace, France’s Ministry of Armed Forces reported on February 8, 2023.
NATO radars detected three suspicious aircraft coming from the Kaliningrad enclave and flying along the Baltic coast on January 31, 2023.
Two Dassault Rafale C fighters of the French Air and Space Force took off from Šiauliai air base in Lithuania, where four have been deployed since November 25, 2022, and began their air policing duty on December 1, 2022.
The fighters caught up with the aircraft near the Latvian coast. They identified the flight group as a Russian Ilyushin Il-20M observation plane and its escort of two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters.
The Ilyushin Il-20 (NATO reporting name: Coot-A) is a large turboprop electronic reconnaissance aircraft based on the Il-18, a popular Soviet civilian airliner.
Once the visual identification was completed, the French fighters escorted the Russian military aircraft away from the Baltic airspace.
The Rafales were heading toward their home base when they were redirected to accompany another flight group. This time, the aircraft were found to be two Russian Su-30 fighters flying from North to South of the Baltic coast.
Baltic Air Policing mission
The Baltic Air Policing mission started in 2004 when the Baltic States joined NATO. It is one of the main missions of NATO air forces, which rotate to protect Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as these countries have no airborne capability of their own.
France’s current deployment in Lithuania is part of NATO’s Enhanced Air Policing (eAP). Since 2014, eAP has aimed to strengthen further the air policing missions carried out by NATO in this region.
“The French commitment within eAP helps to reaffirm France’s solidarity and support for the Baltic States, while the war in Ukraine continues,” the French Ministry of Armed Forces explained in a statement. “France maintains, in a predictable and non-aggressive manner, a firm but non-escalatory position on the eastern flank.”