NATO Says Allied Forces Intercepted More Than 300 Russian Aircraft in 2023

Most of the intercepts reported in 2023 were over the Baltic Sea, according to NATO.

A Belgian F-16 escorting a Russian military plane during an intercept mission off the Estonian coast. [Courtesy: Belgian Air Force]

European air forces scrambled to intercept Russian military aircraft approaching allied airspace more than 300 times in 2023, according to NATO.

The news comes as Russia ramped up air strikes on Ukraine in new waves of attack.

Most of the intercepts reported in 2023 were over the Baltic Sea, where NATO has air policing missions in place to respond when Russian military aircraft operate in unpredictable ways while approaching allied airspace.

The majority of the intercepts were safe and professional, according to NATO.

The number represents a decline from the 570 intercepts of Russian military aircraft reported in 2022, Stars and Stripes reported.

"Along NATO’s eastern flank, Russian military aircraft have a history of not transmitting a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, not filing a flight plan, and not communicating with air traffic controllers," NATO said in a statement. "Breaches of NATO airspace by Russian military aircraft remained rare and generally of short duration."

Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, NATO bolstered air defenses along its eastern flank with increased surveillance flights. In the past year, additional NATO forces were added after Russian military strikes occurred near allied territory and the damaging of underwater telecom cable connecting Sweden and Estonia. NATO also held "Air Defender 23," a training event with more than 250 aircraft that represented the biggest air exercise of allied forces, NATO said.

“Russia’s war against Ukraine has created the most dangerous security situation in Europe in decades,” said Dylan White, acting NATO spokesperson. “NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to scramble in case of suspicious or unannounced flights near the airspace of our allies. Air policing is an important way in which NATO provides security for our Allies.”

Russia on Friday launched a major drone and missile attack against Ukrainian civilian targets, killing 31 civilians and injuring more than 160, according to Reuters. That same day, military officials from NATO member Poland accused Russia of border violations after a Russian guided missile was tracked in the country's airspace, headed to Ukraine. The incident prompted two Polish and two U.S. F-16s to scramble from bases in Poland, as well as an allied air tanker, Poland's Armed Forces Operational Command said on X, formerly Twitter.

Kimberly is managing editor of FLYING Digital.

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