Hungarian Gripen fighter jets policing Baltic airspace as part of a NATO mission were scrambled six times to intercept Russian military planes in the past two months, the commander of the Baltic Air Policing mission (BAP) said at the Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania on Wednesday. The Hungarian Gripens also performed 36 fast takeoffs in training exercises and other training duties during the period of their mission, Attila Vanyik, the mission’s first Hungarian chief, told a press conference.
He noted that the current mission involving 4 Gripens and 77 troops serving as part of the Quick Reaction Alert protocol with Czech support is Hungary’s third policing mission in the Baltic region, following missions in 2015 and 2019. The jets must intercept an unidentified aircraft within 15 minutes of receiving an alert, he added. He noted that an alert for the Gripens had to be called in all six instances owing to the appearance of unidentified Russian planes, fighter jets, military transport planes and reconnaissance planes that entered international airspace around the Baltic airspace without submitting a flight-plan. These planes also failed to establish radio contact with air traffic control and had turned off their transponders, Vanyik said.
Nándor Kilián, commander of the Hungarian Air Force, told MTI that unidentified Russian planes often used the narrow Baltic Sea corridor of the St Petersburg-Kaliningrad route which qualifies as international airspace. He noted that since the Russian occupation of the Crimea in 2014, BAP had expanded the number of army bases for NATO fighter planes policing Baltic airspace to three. Besides Šiauliai, there are bases in Lithuania and Estonia, he said.