RAF Lossiemouth pilots deployed to Estonia as part of NATO air mission

Since March they've been working to protect the skies along the country's eastern borders, often intercepting Russian aircraft.

Around an hour from Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, sits an old Soviet Union air base.

A mix of new and old buildings surrounded largely by forest makes up the Ämari Air base.

But it’s falling, in part, to pilots from Lossiemouth to keep the skies above the Baltic state safe.

Six typhoon fighter jets from the Moray base make up part of the wider UK deployment to the region.

Since March they’ve been taking part in NATO’s mission to protect the skies along its eastern borders, often intercepting Russian aircraft.

Wing Commander John Cockroft is the officer commanding 1 Squadron from RAF Lossiemouth.

He said: “The UK’s got a long history of working closely with the Baltic states, supporting Estonia and maintaining the integrity of their national borders, as well as helping out with NATO and their national borders.

“What we’re doing out here is very much akin to how we work in the UK, in terms of quick reactional alert to ensure the airspace of NATO.”

The NATO Baltic Air Policing mission has been running for almost a decade from this base, although longer from elsewhere.

Operations started at Ämari after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.

Different countries belonging to the alliance are taking it in turn to be stationed here, helping the Estonian forces.

The personnel from RAF Lossiemouth are part of the wider deployment from the UK that make up 140 Expeditionary Air Wing.

With Russia’s increasing aggression over recent years and the ongoing war in Ukraine, the mission has become even more important.

Tensions between Russia and NATO allies have escalated, and the alliance has seen the need to reinforce its defence in the Balitic region.

The jets from Lossiemouth have intercepted 50 aircrafts since their deployment.

A lot the Russian activity comes to and from Kaliningrad, an enclave of Russia more than 300 miles from Tallinn where Russian jets often fly to and from.

It means they fly near NATO airspace without any warning, sometimes with out flight plans or communication.

It’s then up to the pilots from Lossiemouth to intervene.

Mr Cockroft added: “For us it’s to ensure the integrity of NATO airspace.

“Anybody that is not talking to the right air traffic control or squawking the right mode, which is to do with air traffic control, we’re making sure we verify who those people are.

“If they’re not complying with the rules of the air, we shadow them to ensure they don’t do anything they should not be doing.”

This base is only a couple of hundred miles from Russia.

There are 180 RAF personnel there at the moment and as important as keeping the skies safe is keeping them and the base safe too.

Flying officer Duffy is part of the RAF police.

He said: “I don’t think you can get away from the fact we’re quite close to the Russian border. Inevitably that will provides additonal challenges.

“But we’re well equipped and well trained to provide assurance to monitor and mitigate any threats as they come up.”

Another nearby neighbour is Finland, the latest nation to join NATO.

This week the pilots have also been undertaking training with their Finnish counterparts – one of the final acts before they are due to return home to Lossiemouth.

Then their role in this specific mission will come to an end, but the task of securing NATO’s eastern border will continue.

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