NATO fighter jets, stationed at the Lithuanian air base Zokniai, were scrambled to escort 2 Russian An-22 heavy military transport aircraft on a pre-agreed flight plan.
Four Norwegian and four Italian fighters are assigned to the NATO Baltic Air Policing and are based in Zokniai air base. Since Lithuania has a virtually non-existent air force, NATO countries takes turn to continue the Baltic Air Policing. The Baltic Air Policing has been conducted since 2004 and NATO jets are stationed in Lithuania, Estonia and Poland.
According to the spokesperson for the United Staff of the Lithuanian Armed Forces, Donatas Sukhotskis, one of the An-22 was flying with its transponder on and the other one had it turned off. Both planes maintained radio contact with air/ground contact, however.
The two An-22 were flying from Kaliningrad to Russia’s mainland. Due to the isolation of Kaliningrad, aerial resupply is vital for military equipment and goods. Kaliningrad is Russia’s first line of defense against Western threats.
In February 2015, Italian Typhoons were scrambled to intercept another An-22 and an An-72 who were flying close to Lithuania’s airspace. The two Russian aircraft were flying without a plan but had their transponder on and were in contact with control centers.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing aircraft frequently intercept Russian fighters and bombers flying near Baltic States. In 2014, NATO scrambled its planes more than 150 times in response to Russian air activity over the Baltics, four times more than in 2013.