NATO countries physically surround Ukraine, so it is natural and expected to have a certain degree of “contact” between NATO and Russian aircraft.
Scrambling Against Russian Jets
As the clouds of war began building up over Ukraine, NATO started moving more aircraft in the region, including, F-16 Fighting Falcons, F-15 Strike Eagles, Eurofighter Typhoons, and F-35A Lightning II fighter jets.
The NATO pilots began encountering Russian aircraft, especially around the Black Sea.
“You have more Russian aircraft flying around the Black Sea. We react to them anytime any Russian aircraft flies in the Black Sea. We need to be sure that we are there, ready, in front of them, just in case,” Spanish Air Force Lieutenant General Fernando De La Cruz Caravaca, commander of the NATO Combined Air Operations Center, told Air Force Magazine.
On his part, British Air Chief Marshal Sir Michael Wigston to Air Force Magazine that NATO’s air forces are the first line of defense against Russian aggression, adding that he has no doubt that the Russian military is carefully watching how NATO reacts to the invasion of Ukraine.
“When they take off from Crimea protecting their vessels on the Black Sea, they [Russian jets] might … fly over us. They might fly next to the boundaries and then turn back when they see us in the air. That gives a good indication that they can no longer move everywhere they want,” Chief of Staff of the Italian Air Force Lieutenant General Luca Goretti told the Air Force Magazine.
When the ballistic missile cruiser Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet, sunk last week, NATO aircraft were able to monitor its movements until it went down to its watery grave.
We’re executing 24/7 CAPs [Combat Air Patrols] with all the NATO partners across the entire eastern front. It gives a chance for us to show that we are integrated completely with our NATO partners, and that includes in tight formations,” Lieutenant General Goretti added.
NATO Aircraft Around Ukraine
The transatlantic alliance might not be directly participating in the war, but it has a significant presence in the area. In some cases, NATO aircraft help inform Western decision-makers about Russian movements. The intelligence they produce is most likely shared with the Ukrainian military too.
Manned and unmanned NATO intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft are monitoring Russian military movements in and around Ukraine—for example, progress in Mariupol—and are providing a near-constant stream of intelligence to policymakers.
1945’s New Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.