MONTE REAL, Portugal - Portuguese F-16M fighter jets at Air Base No. 5 stand ready 24/7/365 to conduct NATO’s peacetime mission of Air Policing, safeguarding the Alliance airspace on its southwestern flank, a mission overseen by Allied Air Command at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.
Since 1994, the Portuguese F-16 Fighting Falcon has been the primary air interceptor used in the Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) or QRA(I) mission, covering both national and NATO commitments.
"Currently, two F-16M fighter squadrons, the 201 – "Falcons” and the 301 – "Jaguars”, comprised of thirty operationally modernized aircraft ensure the Air Policing mission over the Portuguese mainland and the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores in the Atlantic,” said Lieutenant Colonel Afonso "Jackal” Gaiolas, the operational group commander at Air Base No. 5. "Besides our national commitments, the two squadrons have participated in the common NATO effort of Baltic Air Policing in 2007, 2014, 2016 and again in 2018, Iceland Air Policing in 2012 and Assurance Measures in Romania in 2015 and 2017.”
If the Portuguese Control and Reporting Centre at Monsanto picks up an unclear situation in or near the Portuguese airspace it will inform NATO’s southern Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Torrejon, Spain. Upon evaluation, the CAOC may decide it needs eyes on the situation as soon as possible and can order the Portuguese QRA(I) to launch and visually identify an aircraft, e.g. when it is not in radio contact with the responsible air traffic controllers or does not send its identification code, or has no flight plan filed. The jets will fly up to that aircraft to visually communicate with the pilots e.g. to re-establish radio communications.
"We execute approximately three hundred flight hours per year on QRA(I) sorties during active and training scrambles,” said Lieutenant Colonel Gaiolas. "These are all in support of the Portuguese Air Policing Mission under the control of the Portuguese authorities and NATO CAOC,” he added.
According to Gaiolas, the professionalism and hard day-to-day training of the Portuguese Falcons and Jaguars make Portugal an efficient and capable Ally when it comes to ensuring the execution of NATO Air Policing – anytime, anywhere required.
Story by Portuguese Air Force, Monte Real Air Base No. 5