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In Lithuania, the French Rafales “touch-to-touch” with Russian fighters


“Alpha Scramble! Alpha Scramble! » It is a little after ten o’clock on Tuesday, January 31, when an alarm sounds at the Siauliai military base in northern Lithuania. An unidentified “radar plot” has been detected over the Baltic Sea. In a few minutes, two Rafale de la 30e fighter squadron, usually based in Mont-de-Marsan (Landes), take off. Arrived quickly on site, French airmen discover three Russian aircraft, an Ilyushin Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft and two Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jets armed with air-to-air missiles. “We approached smoothly and accompanied them to northern Estonia, where they entered Russian airspace. Everything went well “says Commander Vincent – ​​who, like the other soldiers interviewed, does not give his last name –, now used to these “hands-on” with the Russians.

Since their arrival in Lithuania on 1er December, French airmen have already carried out eight interceptions of Russian Air Force (VVS) aircraft flying off the Baltic countries without respecting international navigation rules, that is to say without having turned on their transponder – one beacon that allows them to be identified – or respond to radio calls. This sky police mission has been carried out by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) since 2004, but it has taken on particular importance since the invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022.

Twelve fighters sent by member countries of the Atlantic Alliance are taking turns today over Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, to prevent any incursion into their airspace. They were only four when the program was launched almost twenty years ago. “Our mission is to ensure that planes taking off from the Kaliningrad enclave [située au sud-ouest de la Lituanie] to travel to Russia, stay beyond the limit of twelve nautical miles [22,3 kilomètres] which delimits the Baltic airspace”explains Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan, who commands the squadron of a hundred men and women sent by France to Lithuania.

No question of provoking the Russians

In addition to four Rafales to the F3-R standard, the most modern version of the French fighter-bomber, the Siaulai base hosts four Polish F-16s, which take turns in the Baltic skies. A squadron of four German Eurofighters is also taking part in this enhanced Air Policing (eAP) from the base in Ämari, Estonia. “We are on alert two weeks out of three and we take turns with the Poles and the Germans to intervene as soon as an anomaly is detected in the sky”, explains the pilot in charge of the French detachment.

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