- Photo courtesy of The Royal Netherlands Air Force
NATO Air Policing
One of the Alliance’s key roles in peacetime is NATO Air Policing. Preserving the integrity of Alliance airspace is a collective task that requires that actions are taken by NATO against all violations and infringements using agreed Air Policing procedures. NATO Air Policing involves the use of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), Air Command and Control (Air C2) and fighter interceptor aircraft, and is a collective defence task. NATO air policing involves the continuous presence on the ground (24 hours a day, 365 days a year) of armed fighter interceptor aircraft, which are ready to react quickly to any unusual air activity, such as the presence of an unidentified aircraft approaching or infringing into Alliance airspace. In such a case, the aircraft are authorised to approach the unidentified aircraft in order to identify it, establish communication if possible, and take follow on actions if appropriate. NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) is responsible for the conduct of the NATO air policing mission.
Air Policing Evolution
The term air policing was first used by the British between the World Wars to describe their mission in Mesopotamia (now part of Iraq) where aircraft effectively replaced the more traditional army approach of "boots on the ground.” This was the first time air power had been used for this [policing] task and it was deemed to be very successful. In the 1960s nations participating in the NATO military structure realized that individual air defence systems operating independently could not effectively protect NATO airspace. They started working together, therefore, to establish a structure to overcome this deficiency. Combining national assets supplemented as necessary by other NATO elements, an integrated air defence structure and system was organized. The resulting NATO integrated system has been, and remains, the cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion.
Aircraft at handover of Baltic Air Policing in 2009
- Photo courtesy of the German Air Force
NATO Air policing – collective security for the Baltic States, Albania and Slovenia
NATO members without the means necessary to provide air policing of their territory (Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia) are assisted by other NATO members to preserve the integrity of their sovereign airspace in peacetime, and to ensure their collective security. This is an important peacetime task which demonstrates the collective political will and resolve of NATO nations.
The capability for the NATO air policing mission in the Baltic States was established by the deployment of NATO fighter aircraft to Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. The Baltic air policing mission, executed by NATO nations, started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. So far, 14 NATO nations have participated in this mission.
To ensure adequate air policing coverage of Slovenia and Albania, special arrangements were established in 2004 and 2009 respectively. Slovenia’s airspace is covered by the Italian Quick Response Air assets stationed in Italy. In the case of Albania, NATO nations agreed in 2009 to an arrangement using existing air defense assets in Greece and Italy to provide air policing coverage.
The special NATO air policing missions take place in:
Baltic States since 2004 (24//7) 14 involved countries (2013)
Slovenia since 2004 (24/7) Italy
Albania since 2009 (24/7) Italy/Greece