NATO Air Policing is a peacetime collective defence mission, safeguarding the integrity of the NATO Alliance Member’s Airspace. The principle of collective defence is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance. In fact all member nations contribute in some form to NATO Air policing, be it through the use of national aerial surveillance systems, air traffic management, interceptor aircraft or other air defence measures.
From the cockpit of a Belgian F-16 - a view of the composite air operation the fighter conducted with Italian Typhoons in support of NATO's Baltic Air Policing. - Photo courtesy of the Belgian Air Force EAPB, Malbork, Poland
NATO Air Policing ensures the integrity of Allies’ airspace and protects Alliance nations by maintaining 24/7 Air Policing. The mission is carried out under the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS). For NATO nations that do not have the necessary air capabilities (Albania, Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), agreements exist to ensure a standard of airspace security within SACEUR’s area of responsibility.
NATO Allied Air Command’s Air Policing peacetime mission involves the use of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), Air Command and Control (Air C2 - read more here
)) and appropriate air assets, so called Quick Reaction Air (Intercept) or QRA(I) fast jets. Air Policing scrambles respond to military and civilian aircraft in distress and/or that do not follow international flight regulations and approach Allies’ airspace.
Often these aircraft fail to:
- Properly identify themselves
- Communicate with Air Traffic Control
- File flight plans
Consequently, such aircraft create unsafe environments including air-to-air mishaps or these actions may indicate hostile acts such as hijackings. Air Policing responses seek to ensure the safety of the airspace and its users.
NATO Air Policing mission rests under the oversight and guidance of Allied Air Command (AIRCOM). NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) at Uedem, Germany (read more here
) and Torrejon, Spain (read more here
) execute the mission. The CAOCs monitor the whole operation and report to HQ AIRCOM where all information about intercepts is registered in the Air Policing and Reporting section. All scrambles are initiated by a CAOC and conducted with NATO-assigned aircraft.
NATO also maintains a continuous dialogue with partner countries to promote mutual understanding, transparency and confidence in air defence matters of common interest. The cooperation program includes fact-finding meetings with air defence experts, seminars and workshop, visits to air defence facilities and installations, joint analytical studies and a programme for the exchange of unclassified air situation data.
Read more about NATO’s Air Policing here:
Details on current Baltic Air Policing Nations here:
Details on BENELUX Air Policing here:
Airborne Surveillance And Interception Capabilities To Meet Iceland’s Peacetime Prepared Ness Needs (ASIC-IPPN) Mission
The mission NATO conducts in Iceland is a peacetime mission, which is specific and unique to Iceland. Given its unique geographical location, Allies, in conjunction with the Icelandic authorities, have agreed that the appropriate response is to maintain a periodic presence of NATO fighter aircraft based at Keflavik to help keep Icelandic airspace safe and secure. The focus of the "peacetime preparedness mission” is to establish air surveillance and interception coverage over Iceland in order to maintain the integrity of the NATO airspace.
The training benefits the Allies who take part as they deploy their assets to operate in an unknown airspace. It also benefits Iceland, whose Coast Guard staff in the air traffic control agency work with various Allies during these deployments. The "peacetime preparedness” mission usually involves a deployment (typically of around three-four weeks, three times a year) of fighter aircraft from Allied nations. These aircraft familiarise with the airspace and are certified by CAOC Uedem to execute the NATO mission in Icelandic airspace to ensure the Alliance can conduct full-scale peacetime air policing activities at the shortest possible notice if required by real world events.