NATO

'We've Got An Eye On Russia': RAF Typhoons Deploy On Air Policing Mission

Four aircraft from XI Squadron have arrived in Estonia to support the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

Four Typhoon aircraft from the RAF's XI Squadron have landed in Estonia as part of Operation Azotize - the UK contribution to the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission.

Military presence in the Baltic region aims to protect and reassure NATO’s Eastern Member States - the nations most at risk of an attack from Russia.

The order to deploy was given by the Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson, who in February confirmed the UK would be upping its contribution to NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence.

It is the third time that Typhoons have been out to Estonia - the first was in 2015 and then again the following year.

The RAF typhoons will take over from German Air Force counterparts.

Wing Commander Paul "Pablo" O’Grady, Officer Commanding XI Squadron said: "It's a really significant four-month period for XI squadron and for the Royal Air Force.

"Conducting Baltic air police missions over NATO countries is a key role for us as part of a NATO country, to reassure the Estonians, to deter any Russian aggression and to ultimately protect their skies.

"Next week we'll be taking over from the German Air Force - the German Typhoons which have been there for four months.

"Then starting off in a couple of weeks time we'll then be on quick reaction alert, much like in the UK, ready to get airborne in a matter of minutes to intercept any aircraft that should not be over Estonian airspace."

Group Captain Mark Flewin is Station Commander RAF Coningsby.

"Obviously we've got an eye on Russia, but it's a reassurance and deterrence mission for NATO, to reassure the countries in and around the Baltics with our presence there," he says.

Speaking about the response should the worst happen, he commented:

The aircraft will be on standby for Quick Reaction Alert.

"So the team is obviously very well trained to deliver QRA [Quick Reaction Alert].

"We deliver it day in, day out from the UK, and we've done this mission before.

"We've done this mission in Estonia, we've done it elsewhere in Europe, so they're well-trained to go up and intercept and intervene aircraft if indeed any aircraft enter the airspace that they need to go and investigate."