Sunday 21 August, 2016 Update: Dangerous Skies Above Syria


The airspace over northern Syria has become crowded and tense of late. Twice in the last four days, Syrian warplanes have made rare appearances over territory held by Kurdish forces in the northeast corner of Syria prompting coalition aircraft to be scrambled. On 18 August, Syrian Su-24 Fencers conducted raids in an area where US special forces were operating. A request for assistance went out and US fighters were launched but by the time they arrived in the area, the Syrian Fencers had departed. Following the incident, the Assad regime was placed on notice by the Pentagon. Damascus was warned not to fly or conducts strikes in areas where US forces are operating.

On the next day, US F-22 Raptors were scrambled to intercept another pair of Syrian Su-24s that flew near the town of Hasakah. The Raptor pilots flew within a mile of their Syrian counterparts and attempted to hail them, but received no response. The Raptors then used other means to ‘encourage the Syrians to depart from the area.’ This effort was successful, though the details on exactly what the ‘other means’ were remains unclear.

The encounters highlight the crowded and complex conditions that exist in Syrian airspace these days. Aircraft from the US-led coalition, Russia and Syria are all operating in the same areas and at the same times in some cases. The deconfliction plan that was put in place between the US and Russian militaries to keep their aircraft separated has worked very well so far. Judging by the events of 18 and 19 August, however, it appears that the Syrian Air Force is not included in the same agreement.

If that is the case, more incidents like this can be expected in the future, adding to an already tense situation in the air above Syria.

Tueday 3 May, 2016 Update: USAF F-15s To Finland


Next week, six US F-15C Eagles and around 100 airmen from the 173rd Fighter Wing (Oregon ANG) will arrive in Finland to take part in joint exercises with the Finnish Air Force. This marks the first time that US fighters are participating in exercises on Finnish soil and it comes as tension between Russia and NATO remains high. Military cooperation between the US and Finland has increased in recent years. Finland, like its neighbors, has been unnerved by Russia’s behavior in the Baltic region lately.

The US participation in the Finnish exercises is just one of many USAF rotations that have taken place in Europe lately. In April, US fighters deployed to Iceland for air-policing duties over the North Atlantic nation, and to the Netherlands for the annual Frisian Flag exercises. Later in April, three sections of F-22 Raptors arrived at RAF Lakenheath in England and continued training at other locations in Europe until May, including Romania. All of this activity comes under the auspices of Operation Atlantic Resolve.

Eastern Europe has been a beehive of military activity so far in 2016. Russia and NATO have been engaged in a prolonged series of moves and countermoves. From the forests of the Baltic States and Poland to the Baltic Sea and the skies above it, military units have been maneuvering and in some cases encountering forces from the other side. Sometimes on purpose, other times inadvertently. The perils that come with these encounters is very real and cannot be overlooked. The USS.Donald Cook encounter in the Baltic and the Russian interception of a USAF RC-135 provide perfect examples of situations where one wrong move can result in disaster and potentially lead to a shooting war.