NATO Air Forces Conduct Aerial Combat Drills Over Estonia

This week Czech Gripen fighter pilots also practice air-to-air refueling with an A-330 tanker.

Polish F-16 fighters are joined by French Mirage 2000-5 fighters and conduct aerial combat maneuvers, also known as “2v2 drills.” [Courtesy: NATO/Arnaud Chamberlin]

NATO allied air forces practiced refueling, close formation flights, and aerial combat drills in Europe this week. 

The training comes as more warnings emerged that NATO's eastern flank faces potential conflict with Russia within the next decade. Speaking this week in Poland, Estonia Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said that allied forces have about three or four years to strengthen its defenses before Russia prepares a "test for NATO," the Associated Press reported. Estonia,  Lithuania, and Latvia are thought to be potential targets should Russia attempt an attack on an allied country.

On Tuesday, French and Polish aircrews conducting Baltic air policing for NATO began a two-day exercise of training sorties over Estonia, according to NATO air command.  

During the exercise, Polish F-16 fighter jets and a Polish Air Force C-295 tactical transport aircraft departed from Ämari Air Base in Harjumaa, Estonia, and were joined by French Mirage 2000 fighter jets for "2v2" aerial combat maneuvers. The French fighters are stationed at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania.

“The training enables our pilots to integrate with their French counterparts,” said Lieutenant Colonel Michał Zloch, commander of the Polish F-16 detachment. “Beside ensuring 24/7 readiness for air policing sorties for the alliance over the three Baltic states, we are glad that training opportunities like these arise, and we regularly exploit them also with our French and Belgian colleagues. Moreover, such integrated training is also beneficial for aircraft controllers who make sure the training is conducted safely and professionally.”

Aerial Refueling Practice

This week, Czech Air Force fighter pilots in JAS-39 Gripens also trained in aerial refueling from a multinational tanker for the first time—a maneuver designed to extend the fighters’ operational range. 

During the dry-refueling, air-to-air training exercise, the pilots practiced the dry contact procedure with an A-330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) from NATO's Multinational MRTT Unit based at Eindhoven Air Base, Netherlands.

"The maneuver requires a high degree of precision as the aircraft travels at a speed over 500 [kph], and the brim of the drogue is only several dozen centimeters from the jet’s cockpit," NATO Air Command said in a statement.

The experience builds upon the Gripen pilots' air-to-air refueling training with German A-400M, Italian KC-767, Swedish C-130 Hercules, and U.S. Air Force KC-135 tankers, according to a Czech Air Force official.

“Refueling with this aircraft is not significantly different from other tankers as the procedures are standardized and so is the refueling device," Lieutenant Colonel Vladimír Málek, commander of 211th Tactical Squadron, said in a statement. "However, this aircraft is the largest of all the aircraft for which we are qualified. This slightly changes the perspective when you move around the tanker.” 

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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