NATO, Russian jets hold joint exercise

Eurofighter Typhoon (AP)

NATO and Russian fighter jets began their first ever joint anti-terrorism exercise Tuesday, teaming up in a bid to prevent attacks such as the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes on the United States, a Polish official confirmed.

“The unprecedented exercise began this morning with the departure of a Polish CASA 295M aircraft from Krakow” simulating a hijacked civilian aircraft, Polish Defense Ministry spokesman Major Waldemar Krzyzanowski told Agence France-Presse.

Two Polish F-16s from the Krzesiny airbase near Poznan, central Poland, are to intercept the “renegade” aircraft and then hand the mission over to two Russian Sukhoi jets that will guide the plane to the northern Polish city of Malbork, Krzyzanowski added.

The aircraft are taking part in the four-day NATO-Russia “Vigilant Skies 2011” event, which began Monday, involving flights over Poland and the Black Sea. On Wednesday, three Turkish F-16s and two Russian Sukhois will intercept a “rogue” plane over the Black Sea.

Russian fighter jets have never before taken part in NATO exercises, an alliance official confirmed last week. The aerial exercise will test the NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative, or CAI, aimed at preventing a new 9/11 by “sharing information on movements in NATO airspace and Russian airspace, and by coordinating interceptions of renegade aircraft,” according to a NATO statement.

The initiative hopes to “improve air safety for the thousands of passengers using international flights between NATO airspace and Russian airspace each day, and [for] the millions of inhabitants on the ground.”

The new airspace security system “provides a shared NATO-Russia radar picture of air traffic and allows early warning of suspicious air activities through commonly agreed procedures.”

“In situations when an aircraft starts behaving erratically, the air traffic coordination system offers increased information sharing and communication to ensure rapid, joint responses to terrorist threats,” a NATO statement said.

The system has two coordination centers, one in Warsaw and another in Moscow, with local coordination sites in Russian cities of Kaliningrad, Rostov-on-Don and Murmansk as well as Warsaw, Ankara and Norway’s Bodo.