ON BOARD A BELGIAN AIR FORCE PLANE, Jan 15 (Reuters) - A Belgian pilot runs across an aircraft hanger to his F16 fighter and leaps into his cockpit for a practice drill of NATO interceptions of Russian aircraft in allied airspace.
While bad weather over Lithuania eventuality kept him grounded, fellow pilots from Britain, France and Denmark took to the air for close encounters at speeds of 900 km/hour (560 mph).
Violations of NATO airspace over the Baltics have fallen since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, but air activity on allied borders remains constant as jets fly from the Russian mainland across the Baltic Sea to Kaliningrad.
“They are present more or less everyday,” German air force Lieutenant General Klaus Habersetzer, who runs NATO’s northern European air policing command, told Reuters on Tuesday while flying over the Baltics.
During the simulations, NATO pilots carrying air-to-air missiles took turns to simulate the interception of a Belgian air force transporter - playing the role of a Russian plane - en route to Lithuania, performing visual inspections of the aircraft’s status.
With U.S. President Donald Trump regularly accusing Europe of not spending enough on defence, the air commanders hope such displays can highlight how NATO’s planes are helping to protect the continent. (Reporting by Christian Levaux; editing by John Stonestreet)
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