Ukraine

How the RAF's been observing Ukraine and Russia fighting on Snake Island in 'real time'

A Typhoon pilot deployed to Romania said "war is happening in Europe" and the events in Ukraine have "focused the mind".

The RAF's eyes in the sky have told Forces News observing the fighting between Ukraine and Russia "in real time" in the Black Sea region has been "eye opening" and a reminder the conflict "is pretty close to home".

One pilot based in Romania said the events in Ukraine have "focused the mind" while "war is happening in Europe".

Op Biloxi, NATO's air policing mission in the region, is a regular deployment rotated between NATO allies and is currently being led by the RAF.

Personnel from both 140 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) and No 3 (Fighter) Squadron are deployed at the Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base in Romania to work alongside NATO colleagues policing NATO's eastern flank.

However the conflict in the region has made this iteration of the mission the busiest ever for the RAF, with approximately 200 personnel and six Typhoon jets flying twice as many sorties as previously.

Now, while Western and NATO forces are not present in the conflict in Ukraine, Op Biloxi means they can see firsthand what is happening in the Black Sea region.

Watch: Boris Johnson gives the thumbs-up as he flies in cockpit of RAF Typhoon.

Flying Officer Jordan Smith, an Aerospace Battle Manager, 19 Squadron, 140 EAW, works with Romanian controllers every day as part of a Control Reporting Centre (CRC) in Bucharest.

This means he is responsible for the tactical control of the Typhoon fighter jets, as well as providing situational awareness on what is happening in NATO skies.

He told Forces News he "wouldn't have expected to have seen the amount" he has seen on what is his first deployment.

"What we see in the CRC has been insightful and it's all relevant to what's happening over in Ukraine," he said.

"They can see everything that's going on there and our systems that we use can also pick up what's going on in that region."

Fg Off Smith added that while the RAF is not deployed to respond or react to anything happening on Snake Island, the pilots "can see it" when they are airborne, with the island located close to the Mihail Kogălniceanu Air Base.

One of those pilots, Flight Lieutenant Lewis Travers, 3 (Fighter) Squadron, told Forces News "war is happening in Europe” and the events in Ukraine have "focused the mind".

"With Snake Island being as close as it is, we've been able to observe the fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces actually going on in real-time," he said.

Watch: UK take control of NATO's air policing mission in Romania.

"That's been quite eye opening for us and it reminds you that, actually, this is pretty close to home and certainly close to the borders of NATO territory."

As Russia's invasion of Ukraine continues, belonging to NATO is key to Romania's security.

Having previously been a member of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union's answer to NATO.

After an end to the pact was declared in 1991, Romania later joined NATO in 2004 – with the alliance's presence ensuring the country's airspace and future are protected.

Colonel Eduart Dodu, Deputy Commander 57th Mihail Kogalniceanu Air Base, told Forces News being in NATO is "something that can assure you that you're going to live tomorrow".

"To be outside of NATO today is very hard," he said. "You can see what is happening today in Ukraine.

"The enhanced Air Policing is the most important mission that we have in [the] Romanian Air Force."

After the RAF, it is the turn of the Royal Canadian Air Force to guard NATO's eastern border – taking over the mission on 4 August.