Belgian F-16s scrambled to intercept 2 Russian nuclear-capable supersonic bombers over the Baltic Sea

A Belgian Air Force F-16 escorts a Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable supersonic bomber.

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A Belgian Air Force F-16 escorts a Russian Tu-160 nuclear-capable supersonic bomber.
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NATO/ Belgian Air Force

  • The Belgian Air Force is policing Baltic airspace as of September 3; on Tuesday, it intercepted two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic, nuclear-capable bombers.
  • Belgium took over the Baltic policing mission from Hungary which, along with Spain and the UK, was policing Baltic airspace when Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters flew near Baltic airspace twice over two days in June.
  • US and UK aircraft have been sending clear messages to Russia – US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew their first missions in the Arctic earlier in September, and the B-2s flew with non-US F-35s for the first time in August.
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Belgian Air Force F-16s scrambled to intercept two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack supersonic, nuclear-capable bombers, accompanied by two Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fighters over the Baltic Sea on Tuesday.

The Belgian Air Force has been guarding the Baltic airspace since September 3, when it took over the police mission from fellow NATO member Hungary, which was supported by Spain and the UK in its mission. Four Belgian F-16s and at least 60 soldiers have been deployed to protect Baltic airspace from unwelcome incursions, according to the Belgian Ministry of Defense.

Tuesday’s interception was Belgium’s first since it began its rotation over Baltic airspace, and seemingly at very close range.

Russian aircraft have engaged in several provocative actions over NATO airspace this year. In June, British Typhoon fighter jets scrambled to intercept Russian Su-30 Flanker fighters twice in two days.

But NATO countries aren’t merely reacting to Russian aggression. In August alone, US and UK aircraft sent clear messages to Russia:

  • US B-2 Spirit stealth bombers flew with UK F-35s, the B-2’s first time flying with non-US F-35s.
  • B-2 Spirit bombers landed in Iceland for the first time. The B-2, which operates from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri, Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and Royal Air Force Fairford in the UK, needs specific conditions to support its stealth capabilities.
  • B-2 bombers flew their first extended sorties over the Norwegian Sea earlier in September – right in Russia’s backyard.

NATO countries share the mission of protecting Baltic airspace, as the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania – don’t have the infrastructure to protect their own airspace and are considered at risk of destabilization or invasion by Russia.

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