Hungary’s Gripen fighters patrolling the airspace over the Baltic states have been alerted more than 40 times since starting their mission in May, the commander of the unit in charge of the mission said.
During a media day held at Lithuania’s Siauliai International Airport, the Hungarian fighters were alerted twice within a span of a few hours. Since the start of the mission, the Hungarian Gripens have completed over 370 take-offs and over 400 flight hours, Brigadier General Csaba Ugrik said.
The airspace patrol mission involves, among other things, the identification of aircraft that had not submitted their flight plans, fail to stay in contact with the competent air traffic controllers or do not operate transponders. Further, they are tasked with providing support to other forces stationed in the Baltics and strengthening the locals’ sense of security, Ugrik added. The Hungarian Armed Forces is leading the NATO airspace patrol mission of the Baltic states in partnership with Spain and Britain, he said. NATO has stepped up its presence in the region since Russia annexed Crimea.
During their patrols, the Hungarian Gripens intercepted multiple cargo and reconnaissance aircraft, including AN-24, AN-26, TU-214R, IL-18, IL-38 and IL-76 planes, he said. They have also encountered Russian bombers and fighters including SU-24M, SU-27P, SU-30SM and SU-35S jets. Ugrik noted that since none of the three Baltic states possess fighter jets, their airspace has been policed by NATO since they joined the alliance in 2004. NATO member states take turns policing Baltic airspace, and the current mission is Hungary’s second one since 2015, he added. Hungary is carrying out the mission with 96 soldiers and four JAS-39 Gripen fighters, Ugrik said, adding that during the mission, the troops are also taking part in international exercises and training.