Russian Su-30 fighter aircraft were intercepted by Belgian fighter jets over the Baltic Sea on December 6, 2023. This marks the first alert scramble for the Belgian Air Force since assuming the lead in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission just one week earlier.
NATO radars detected unidentified aircraft departing Kaliningrad, prompting the launch of two Belgian Air Force F-16s from Šiauliai in Lithuania to investigate the situation. The intercept was conducted in coordination with the Swedish Air Force.
The Russian Su-30s, flying without communication with civilian Air Traffic Control, were visually identified by the Belgian F-16s.
The French Air and Space Force Mirage 2000-5s were on standby for a potential scramble, but were ultimately held back as NATO controllers opted to continue monitoring the situation via radar.
Later the same day, the French Air Force Mirage 2000-5 fighters, also deployed to Šiauliai, were prepared for another potential intercept of a Russian aircraft departing Kaliningrad. However, due to a ‘tactical development of the situation’, the French fighters did not take off.
The Baltic Air Policing mission began in 2004 when the Baltic States joined NATO. It is one of the main missions of NATO air forces, which operate in rotation to protect Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as these countries have no airborne capability of their own.
In the buildup to the war in Ukraine, NATO increased its air presence in eastern Europe by deploying additional fighters, observation aircraft and bombers. Belgium, France, Germany, Poland and Turkey currently have fighters deployed on air policing duties along NATO’s eastern flank.