RAMSTEIN, Germany –The Belgian Air Force detachment at Ämari on how all pilots benefit from an operational deployment like the enhanced Air Policing in Estonia.
We have ample opportunity to learn from each other; the team effort and excellent support from the Estonian forces enable us to do our job in support of NATO's collective Air Policing here in the Baltic Sea region
The Allies who contribute to Allied Air Policing across Europe rely on one key capability to execute the mission – pilot skills and good airmanship. The Belgian Air Force detachment currently augmenting NATO's Air Policing mission in the Baltic region ensure that both their senior pilots with long years of experience and their junior pilots can benefit from the deployment and still enable safe and effective execution of the collective enduring Air Policing mission.
A Belgian F-16 in a hangar at Ämari Air Base., Estonia, where four jets support NATO's enhanced Air Policing mission in the Baltic region. Photo by Pascal Warner.
Two Belgian F-16s taxiing for take-off at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. Photo by Pascal Warner.
A Belgian F-16 outside a hangar at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. Photo by Pascal Warner.
A Belgian F-16s taking off from Ämari Air Base, Estonia for a training scramble. Photo by Pascal Warner.
"Having done pilot training on the F-16 fighter aircraft in 2002 vs 2020 respectively, one can immediately feel the difference in experience between senior and junior pilots", said Pilot B., experienced commanding officer of an operational F-16 squadron, while Pilot K. is the youngest F-16 pilot of the detachment in Estonia. For pilot K. this is his first operational mission, having joined the squadron only five months ago. Pilot B., on the other hand, has flown operational missions all over the world; from Iraq and Syria, to Afghanistan but also on NATO Air Policing deployments in the Baltic States in both Lithuania and Estonia.
"The last couple of weeks things have been rather quiet in the skies here on the Baltic Sea shores probably due to the time of year and the current poor weather", said Pilot B. However, the whole detachment makes best use of their time on the NATO mission ensuing 24/7 readiness of the jets so the pilots achieve their training goals. "NATO's Combined Air Operation Centre at Uedem schedules regular training scrambles; the whole team works together enabling us get airborne within the shortest time. Once in the skies the pilots work with each other and Controllers in the regional Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) to go through our tactics, techniques and procedures. Getting 'scrambled' twice a day for training really makes the time 'fly' by", added Pilot B.
It is a very nice experience, you get to know and work with people that you wouldn't always work with this closely in another setting, for example the Estonian firefighters or the Controllers at the Baltic CRCs", Pilot K. explained. "We have ample opportunity to learn from each other. And though the duty we do here is identical to the one at home, there is always something new for us to learn", he added.
"The whole team is serving the same goal and every single one of us is indispensable– the detachment functions like a well-oiled machine. At home you only see the results of other people's efforts, e.g. the crew chief delivers a good aircraft, meteo services provides the weather update", both pilots agreed. "On a deployment things are much more transparent and we are closer to each other; it's interesting to learn from those other specialists and what it takes for them to get their results", they added.
For the pilots it is interesting to see how 'airspace' works in the Baltics and see first-hand how we do coordination with the CAOC. "Everyone is disciplined here, so life is made as normal as it possibly can be despite the COVID reality that we've had for the last two years", said both pilots. "The team effort and excellent support from the Estonian forces enable us to do our job in support of NATO's collective Air Policing here in the Baltic Sea region", they concluded.