25 July 2023

Estonian-based fighter jet pilots focused despite Ukraine war – RAF commander

25 July 2023

Pilots flying fighter jets in Estonia are “very well placed” to deal with threats in the Baltic Sea despite the Russian war in Ukraine, an RAF Lossiemouth wing commander has said.

British military personnel have been deployed at the eastern European country’s Amari airbase since March to uphold security in the region as part of Nato’s Baltic air police mission.

The mission, known as Operation Azotize, began in March 2023 and is the second deployment in the region since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

While it takes place under the backdrop of the war, the air placement was planned prior to the invasion.

The typhoon jets have conducted joint training exercises with the Finnish air force in the Joutsen Strike exercise as part of the mission.

Officer Commanding 1 (Fighter) Squadron Wing Commander John Cockroft, who leads the team in the policing exercises which sees the fighter jets deployed to intercept unauthorised aircraft, said the RAF is “vigilant” due to aggression from the neighbouring country.

The aircraft, he said, are ready to launch at “very short notice” once alerted to others that have not notified ahead or followed the correct flight paths.

The RAF Lossiemouth mission has six fighter jets deployed at the Estonian base, with 50 aircrafts intercepted since March.

Speaking at the airbase, he told the PA news agency, “Even with the war in Ukraine, we are still maintaining what we have always done here in Estonia, which is to ensure the integrity of the Nato airspace.

“Our mission hasn’t changed, we just have to make sure there is no miscalculation at any stage.”

In October, a Russian aircraft released a missile near an unarmed RAF plane over the Black Sea, which was described as “potentially dangerous engagement” by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace”, but it was not deemed to be a “deliberate escalation”.

The action led to military personnel being “on the front foot” to prevent any potential aggression.

Commander Cockroft said: “For us, all it has done is it has focused our minds. We always had rules of engagement which we follow to the letter.

“We are being more vigilant now that we know something has happened that shouldn’t have happened.

“We’re just on the front foot a little bit more to make sure that any further aggression is not left unchecked.

“The typhoon is very well-placed to deal with any threats that are put in front of it and it carries a full suite of weaponry to be able to handle any situation.”

Flying officer Duffy, who is the detachment security officer at RAF Lossiemouth, also said the war in Ukraine highlighted the importance of protecting the base’s infrastructure.

Duffy, who is from Edinburgh, said: “I definitely think it has highlighted certain issues that we need to be aware of, typically in protecting our infrastructure, mainly the typhoons, as well as our people to provide them with security while they’re providing operations overseas.”

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