Under NATO’s coordination and control, the Allies have been safeguarding European skies for 60 years.
The year 2021 marks this anniversary of the Allies conducting the enduring collective defence mission of NATO Air Policing as a core task preserving the integrity of the airspace and keeping Allied skies safe.
According to a NATO news release:
“Since 1961, NATO Allies have worked together to protect our citizens and safeguard airspace above our nations. Starting with 13 Allies in the early days, the participation in the Air Policing mission has now more than doubled, involving all 30 Allied nations,” said General Jeff Harrigian, Commander Allied Air Command.
“The enduring commitment of Allied Air Forces underlines the importance of this persistent operation to the deterrence and defence of the Alliance,” he added.
The term Air Policing describes the Allies’ joint and collective use of fighter aircraft to preserve the integrity of NATO airspace.
“Soon the Allies realiSed that individual air defence systems operating independently could not effectively protect NATO and national airspace. They started working together organising an integrated air defence structure and system by combining national assets and transferring them to NATO Command and Control.
The resulting NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS) Comprises sensors, command and control facilities and weapon systems such as ground based air defence and fighter aircraft. The interconnecting data-link systems enable the free and open exchange of the Recognised Air Picture all over NATO Europe from North Norway to South Eastern Turkey.”
In 1961, they reported to a network of more than 20 Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) distributed throughout the region that in turn came under three Allied Air Commands. Due to technical progress and not least digitalisation, in 2021, this task is accomplished by one Air Command at Ramstein, Germany, two CAOCs in Uedem, Germany and Torrejón, Spain, and CRCs and CRPs in each member country.
NATO members without the necessary national assets to conduct Air Policing are assisted by other NATO members to ensure air sovereignty is maintained.
Special Air Policing arrangements exist for Albania, Estonia, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Slovenia, Montenegro and soon North Macedonia.
“The collective Air Policing posture enables the Alliance to detect, track and identify to the greatest extent possible all aerial objects approaching NATO airspace so that violations can be recognized early, and appropriate action taken.”