A detachment of four Belgian F-16 fighter aircraft is set to wrap up eight months of activities at the end of July, after their air policing deployment to Estonia was extended following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In the photo above, a Belgian F-16 is escorting a Russian military plane encountered during an intercept mission off the Estonian coast.
When French Mirage 2000-5 fighters took over the enhanced air policing role in April, the Belgian detachment switched to enhanced vigilance activities, carrying out scheduled patrols in key areas of Baltic airspace.
They also gained experience in operating alongside other Allies and partners, including through exercises like Ramstein Alloy and BALTOPS.
As the NATO members conducted operations when the Russians launched their invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the western alliance stepped up air policing operations that have been an integral part of the defense collective’s mission for 60 years.
The Russian Air Force had reportedly deployed in support of the invasion with about 300 combat aircraft within range of Ukraine. Aircraft have also been deployed in Belarus for sorties over Ukraine.
NATO—the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—was created in 1949 by the United States, Canada, and several western European nations to provide collective security against the Soviet Union.
Although NATO is not at war, the battle puts hostile forces close to each other, increasing tensions over whether the conflict might escalate into a global nuclear war.
A day after the invasion began, Ukrainian forces reportedly destroyed several aircraft and set a Russian airbase on fire in the Millerovo air base attack.
The Russian air force reportedly flew over 20,000 sorties in the war, but fewer than 3,000 of those flights entered Ukrainian airspace, possibly due to fear of Ukraine’s sustained air defense and potentially constrained by nearby NATO air patrols.
On March 13, Russian forces launched cruise missile attacks on Yavoriv military base near the Polish border.
There’s little denying at this point that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been an unmitigated military and economical disaster.
What was meant to be a quick operation with the aim of surrounding Eastern Ukraine and seizing Kyiv, thus forcing Western powers to the negotiation table over the future status of the country, has turned into a quagmire for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The Russian Air Force has generally been noted by its relative absence from the invasion and has as of 25 March 2022 failed to subdue Ukrainian air defenses or the Ukrainian Air Force. It has, as of April 1, 2022, also failed to achieve air supremacy.
With the modern U.S., Chinese and Turkish unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV), already operationally deployed in a multitude of nations and conflicts worldwide, Russia has been lagging behind in the development and production of such drones.
Russia lost 185 aircraft, of which, 135 were destroyed, two were damaged, and 48 have been captured. By comparison, Ukraine lost 74 aircraft, of which, 64 were destroyed and 10 were captured.
An embarrassing number of naval vessels have also been lost by Russia, including the Moskva, the flagship of the Russian Black Sea Fleet.
With a crew of 510, Moskva was once considered the most powerful warship in the region but it was sunk by two Ukrainian R-360 Neptune anti-ship missiles in April.
Setbacks and casualties have not damped the bloodlust in the Kremlin and these disasters may have emboldened Russian territorial ambitions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov gave the biggest official signal yet that Russia is planning to annex southern Ukraine.
“Now the geography has changed. It’s not just Donetsk and Luhansk, it’s Kherson, Zaporizhia, and several other territories,” said Lavrov. “And this is an ongoing process, consistent and insistent.”
It is unclear how the military misadventure is going to playout among the Russian public.
A report that was broadcast on Russian state television recently highlighted how a Russian couple was able to buy “a nice new car” using money they received after their son was killed in the Ukraine war.
A clip of the state television report and an English translation were shared on Twitter Monday morning by BBC journalist Francis Scarr, who said that it focused on the unforeseen “benefits” of losing a son in the conflict. The Russian couple is first shown inside their home with a picture of a man who is presumably their son.
“Like his grandfathers and great-grandfathers he fought against fascism,” a narrator is heard saying, according to Scarr’s translation.