For ten days, the Spanish and Germans acted as a single squadron

The joint mission of Eurofighter combat aircraft from Spain and Germany in Estonia

Between August 1 and December 1 of this year, eight Spanish Eurofighters and one A400M Atlas were deployed in Estonia.

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It was the first time that the Spanish Air Force deployed eight combat aircraft and a tanker plane in a Baltic Air Police (BAP) mission, missions that NATO has been organizing in the Baltic republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), since the small armed forces of these countries do not have interceptor aircraft, so they need the support of other allied countries to deal with the frequent incursions by Russian military planes that fly with the transponder off and violating international aviation regulations in that area.

The Spanish contingent, baptized as Detachment Amber, operated from the Ämari Air Base. The eight Eurofighters belonged to Ala 11, based in Morón (Seville), while the A400M was from Ala 31, based in Zaragoza. With them were 130 Spanish soldiers. In Ämari, the Spanish planes coincided for ten days with four German Eurofighers, being the second time that this type of aircraft from both countries coincided in Estonia. The German aircraft belonged to Jagdgeschwader 71 Richthofen (JG 71, Richthofen Tactical Wing, named after the famous German pilot Manfred von Richthofen, better known as the Red Baron).

Today Airbus published an interesting chronicle of that mission, indicating what the collaboration between the military of both countries was like: "For 10 days, Spaniards and Germans from the 71st Richthofen Tactical Wing acted as a single squadron, completing 15 flights together sharing maintenance tasks, as well as flight tactics, techniques and procedures." This included the participation of pilots from both countries in Tango Scramble and Alpha Scramble alerts, as training alerts and actual alerts to take off quickly and carry out an interception are known, respectively.

"The goal of the Baltic Air Policing is basically to avoid any potential violation of allied airspace. When we have an Alpha Scramble, we have 15 minutes to get in the air. You dress up, start your engines and take off quickly", says Lieutenant Carlos Sánchez, Spanish pilot of the 11th Wing, in the Airbus report. Lieutenant Sánchez adds that during an Alpha Scramble "you have a 'tally' with the unidentified aircraft, which means that the pilots visually identify it, and then describe the type of aircraft, its colour, etc. There is a chain of command between you and the NATO Combined Air Operations Centre, where different decisions are taken depending on the behaviour of this aircraft."

In the case of the Alpha Scramble alert referred to in the Airbus report, a Russian Ilyushin Il-20 electronic reconnaissance plane had left Kaliningrad with the transponder turned off and without communicating its flight plan , which violates international aviation regulations, forcing allies to send fighters to identify the intruding plane, in case it was a possible threat.

A German pilot, whose name has not been published for security reasons, adds: "After the take off, I would say it gets a bit more relaxed, because once you have started the aircraft, you are more into your habitual patterns. [...] We start the interception of the aircraft, we get all the instructions from ATC (Air Traffic Control) and ground control unit. They will guide us to the aircraft that we are going to intercept."

As Airbus points out, the life of these fighter pilots involves constant training, both physical and intellectual. On the one hand, they need to be in very good shape to withstand the G forces involved in certain maneuvers of their aircraft. Lieutenant Sánchez adds: "The life of a fighter pilot is one of constant learning. There are always new weapons, new systems, new radars, and if not, you have to remember things you haven't studied for a while."

Before their deployment to Estonia, the Spanish pilots experienced this mission in the simulator: "Before we came here, we had already flown a lot of missions in the Baltic airspace. We can develop scenarios, and then when you get here, you are already familiar with them", says Lieutenant Sánchez.

You can see here the video published by Airbus along with this report:


Photos: Airbus.

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