This year, The North Atlantic Alliance Air Force intercepted hundreds of Russian warplanes approaching NATO airspace, reports NATO’s press service.
"NATO air forces across Europe scrambled more than 400 times in 2020 to intercept unknown aircraft approaching Alliance airspace. Almost 90 percent of these missions - around 350 - were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft. This is a moderate increase from 2019," the statement reads.
NATO noted that Russian military aircraft often do not transmit a transponder code indicating their position and altitude, do not file a flight plan, or do not communicate with air traffic controllers, posing a potential risk to civilian airliners.
"Across Europe, some 40 air surveillance radars and reporting hubs, and about 60 NATO jets, are on duty 24/7 to serve as a quick-response force for aircraft which fall into distress or defy international flying rules near Alliance airspace," the press service said.
NATO has been carrying out air patrol missions over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 2004, when these Baltic countries joined the Alliance. NATO also provides Air Policing coverage for Allies in the Western Balkans who do not have fighter jets of their own: Albania, Slovenia, and Montenegro. Talks are also underway to extend Air Policing coverage to North Macedonia. Allies have also helped to police the skies of Romania, Bulgaria and Iceland in 2020.
To control airspace, the Alliance has two Air Force operational centres: in Germany and in Spain. They monitor the airspace over Europe.
On June 12, Ukraine was granted the status of a member of NATO's Enhanced Opportunities Partner Program (EOP). Ukraine has become NATO's sixth Enhanced Opportunities Partner, along with Australia, Finland, Georgia, Jordan and Sweden. Each partner has an individual relationship with NATO based on areas of mutual interest. The Alliance noted that Ukraine's status as an Enhanced Partner does not determine any decisions regarding NATO membership.