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Sep 20 2021

Denmark's contribution to 60 years of NATO Air Policing

RAMSTEIN, Germany - Denmark has been fully committed to defending NATO airspace since the formation of the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) in 1950. The first formal command and control association between the RDAF and NATO was established in 1956. If the Danish government declared reinforced alert, the Command Tactical Air Force Denmark would come under operational control of the Commander of NATO's Northern Region.

When NATO nations decided to integrate their air defence forces in 1961, most nations transferred their quick reaction alert aircraft to NATO command and control in peacetime. Denmark, however, was unable to do that due to the provisions of the Danish Constitution but we were committed to finding a solution. Special command arrangements were established through the 1961 Air Defence Agreement between the Danish Government and Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR). A double-hatting system put Danish officers in key posts in the air defence system, acting in a national capacity at lower levels of readiness and seamlessly transferring into NATO posts at higher alert states. Same operating procedures, same command chain, same reporting requirements–Danish at one moment and NATO at the next.

Integrated Air Policing is a core function of NATO. It demonstrates the solidarity and the defensive resolve of the member nations

"Integrated Air Policing is a core function of NATO. It demonstrates the solidarity and the defensive resolve of the member nations." Major General Jan Dam, Commander RDAF

From day one, Denmark had their first operational fighter aircraft, the Meteor F Mk 4 day fighter, and their first air surveillance radar. Over the next years, more Meteors in both day and night fighter versions entered into service and more air surveillance radars were added to the system.

Over the years, Denmark continuously updated their air surveillance system and introduced improved fighter aircraft like the Hawker Hunter, F-86 Sabre, F-104 Starfighter and finally the F-16, which has been the sole guardian of the Danish part of NATO airspace since 1986.

During the Cold War, Denmark was in a special situation with the Danish island of Bornholm situated in the Baltic Sea, 120 nautical miles east of the Iron Curtain and only 40 miles from the nearest Warsaw Pact territory. That geography accounts for a number of supersonic air policing missions flown over the years.

Danish F-16s are still patrolling Danish airspace, and since 2004 periodically also both Baltic and Icelandic airspaces. When Belgium provided fighters for the first Baltic Air Policing mission in 2004, Denmark supported the Lithuanian air base at Siauliai with fire fighters, arrester gear, fuel bowsers and runway sweepers. Danish F-16s took over from Belgium as the second NATO nation to guard the skies over the Baltic States from July the same year.

Right now, Danish F-16s are back at Siauliai, providing air policing over the Baltic States for the seventh time, and next year Denmark will take over the Iceland Peacetime Preparedness Needs mission for the fifth time.

No matter what the command and control arrangements are, the Danish commitment to the NATO Air Defence mission is unwavering.

Archived photo of a Danish F-16 during air policing efforts. The F-16 multi-role fighter was introduced in 1980 and is still serving. Photo by Steen Hartov, RDAF. 

Archived photo of Danish F-104 all weather interceptor. The F-104 was first introduced in 1964. Photo by Birger Mikkelsen RDAF. 
Archived photo of a Danish Meteor Day fighter. The Meteor Day fighter model was first introduced in 1950. Photo by Gunnar Jensen, RDAF. 

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office with contributions from Royal Danish Air Force

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