RAF pilots based at Lossiemouth are set to depart Estonia after playing a key role in protecting NATO’s eastern flank from the threat of Russia.
Six typhoon fighter jets from the Moray base make up part of a wider UK deployment in the region.
Since March, they’ve been taking part in NATO’s mission to protect Estonia’s skies along its eastern border, often intercepting Russian aircraft.
But the pilots’ time at the Amari air base is drawing to a close, with Spanish military personnel taking over next week.
Major Tansel Rattiste, the base’s chief of staff, told STV News: “It is important that each time when Russian Federation aircraft violates our border, or is closing in on our national borders, they will get intercepted.
“They know that we are ready, we are watching, and we don’t hesitate to intercept those flights.”
Hundreds of RAF staff, ranging from pilots and engineers to weaponry experts, are currently deployed at the eastern European air base, tasked with upholding security as part of Nato’s Baltic air police mission.
The Operation Azotize mission began in March 2023 and has seen Typhoon jets intercept unauthorised aircraft from Russia over the Baltic Sea.
Despite a large NATO presence, Estonia itself only has a handful of military aircraft.
Many of those planes are only used for training. Therefore, the air policing operation the RAF and Typhoon jets from Lossiemouth are conducting is crucial for wider security.
But being so close to Russia means it’s vital the Baltic nation can control its own airspace. For the Estonian forces, learning from the UK has been crucial in their own development.
Defence in Estonia is taken very seriously and it has to be with a neighbour like Russia. The RAF mission is also vital to show locals what NATO is doing in the region.
Flight Lieutenant Lucy Hicks of 140 Expeditionary Air Wing said: “It’s a massively important part of the mission, clearly we have got the requirement to conduct the quick reaction alert on one side, but then messaging out to the local community, to the people back at home and really to everyone about what we are doing is part of the mission too.”
Men and women from across the UK make up the RAF’s 140 Expeditionary Air Wing and working with Estonian counterparts is seen as important for both sides.
Corporal Niamh Crawford of 19 Squadron told STV News: “In NATO, there’s certain regulations and everyone has their certain training standards. But every nation has it’s different techniques, and it’s those techniques, those small things that you do day-to-day in the UK compared to Estonia out here that are different.
“So we can discuss them, see which works best. They’ve been able to lean on us, as we have been able to lean on them as well.”