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Here’s how many times NATO scrambled fighters to intercept Russian aircraft in 2021

Portuguese F-16 escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear
Russian TU-95 Bear seen through the sensors of a Portuguese F-16 during an air policing mission. Photo: Portuguese Air Force

As 2021 comes to an end, NATO has provided an update on how many times the alliance’s fighter aircraft were scrambled to escort unannounced flights near allied airspace.

According to the alliance, there were 370 such operations across Europe this year.

Around 80 percent of the missions, 290 in total, were in response to flights by Russian military aircraft.

“NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to take off in case of unverified flights near the airspace of our allies,” said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “NATO is vigilant, and we will always do what it takes to protect and defend all allies.”

Most of the intercepts in 2021 occurred in the Baltic region, where NATO operates an air-policing mission for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

NATO has similar missions for Albania, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Slovenia. Allies also help to police the skies of Romania, Bulgaria and Iceland. Generally, intercepts occurred without incident as NATO planes take off to identify the approaching aircraft and escort it out of the area.

Very few intercepted flights entered allied airspace, NATO noted.

Photo: NATO

Across Europe, over 60 NATO jets are on high alert at all times, ready to respond to unannounced military flights, as well as to civilian aircraft losing communication with air-traffic controllers for any reason – which could range from technical problems to hijacking. NATO has two air operations centers – one in Germany, covering northern Europe, and one in Spain covering the south – which monitor all air movements across Europe.