Safe skies: 60 years of NATO Air Policing

  • 05 Jul. 2021 -
  • |
  • Last updated: 24 Aug. 2021 12:32

Across Europe, NATO fighter jets are on duty around the clock, ready to scramble in case of suspicious or unannounced flights near the airspace of our Allies. NATO calls this activity Air Policing, which has been an essential part of NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence for 60 years (since 1961). Explore this page to learn more about NATO’s five special air policing arrangements to ensure the integrity of NATO’s airspace and protect our almost one billion citizens.

Watch the videos

From Iceland in the north to the Black Sea on NATO's south-eastern border, Allied air forces keep NATO airspace safe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Watch the following videos to learn more about NATO's air policing missions!

The Baltic States

The Baltic States

Located on NATO's eastern border, the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don't have fighter jets of their own, so other NATO Allies send rotating detachments of fighters to air bases in Estonia and Lithuania to keep the Baltic skies secure.

Benelux

Benelux

Benelux stands for Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. These three Western European countries have a special arrangement to keep their skies secure: the Belgian and Dutch Air Forces trade responsibility for patrolling the skies over the three countries.

Iceland

Iceland

Welcome to Iceland. Strategically located, the country is invaluable to the Alliance's situational awareness. Iceland has no military, so other NATO Allies contribute fighter jets on a rotating basis. They fly out of Keflavík Air Base near the capital Reykjavík.

Bulgaria and Romania

Bulgaria and Romania

Bulgaria and Romania conduct air policing operations on their own. However, because of Russian aggression in the Black Sea region, since 2014, NATO Allies have sent detachments of fighters to augment the Bulgarian and Romanian national forces.

Western Balkans

Western Balkans

In the Western Balkans, several Allies – including Albania, Slovenia and NATO's newest member countries Montenegro and North Macedonia – lack air forces with fighter jets capable of intercepting unsafe air traffic. To secure their airspace, other NATO Allies take turns leading air policing missions.

Safe skies
 

 

By the numbers

Air traffic and interceptions

  • 35,000 – approximate number of daily air movements inside European airspace (2021)
  • 400 – approximate number of air intercept missions  per year (2020)
  • 350 – approximate number of times NATO jets took to the skies in 2020 to intercept Russian military aircraft (almost 90% of air intercept missions)

NATO Air Policing capabilities

  • 40 – approximate number of radar surveillance stations on duty 24/7 across Europe
  • 60 – approximate number of NATO quick-response jets on duty 24/7 across Europe
  • 21 – Allies that contribute fighter jets to NATO Air Policing missions
  • 30 – Allies that contribute fighters, air command and control centres, and air surveillance stations to NATO Air Policing missions
  • 2 – number of Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) – one in Uedem, Germany responsible for air policing north of the Alps, and one in Torrejón, Spain responsible for the south

Air policing coverage

  • 5 – number of special NATO Air Policing arrangements (see videos above)
  • 13 – countries covered by special NATO Air Policing arrangements*
  • 30 – countries covered by NATO and NORAD air policing. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a bilateral arrangement between Canada and the United States, which covers the two North American NATO Allies
  • 786,000 km2 – approximate land area covered by special NATO air policing arrangements*
  • 69.8 million – approximate number of people protected by special NATO air policing arrangements*
  • 26.5 million km2 – approximate land area covered by NATO + NORAD air policing
  • almost 1 billion – people protected by NATO and NORAD air policing

Time

  • 24/7/365 – period when NATO Air Policing missions are on alert
  • less than 15 minutes – approximate time it takes for a Quick Reaction Alert pilot to get into the air after a launch alarm sounds
  • 1 year training + 150 flight hours – approximate time it takes to become a fighter pilot (varies by country)
  • 60 – number of years that NATO has been conducting Air Policing missions (1961-2021)

* Please note that these numbers include North Macedonia, which will be covered by a special NATO Air Policing arrangement beginning later in 2021.