RCAF task force to resume air policing over Romania

AvatarBy Chris Thatcher | August 17, 2018

Estimated reading time 4 minutes, 36 seconds.

Five CF-188 Hornets will depart for eastern Europe in late August to augment Romanian Air Force air policing capabilities.

A CF-188 Hornet from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron. The Canadian Forces will send five CF-188s to help with air policing in Romania. Galen Burrows Photo

The Hornets and around 135 Canadian Armed Forces personnel, mostly from the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF), will be based in Constanta, Romania, for a four-month deployment from September to December, part of a NATO deterrence mission in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and ongoing aggression in the region.

The air task force will be commanded by LCol Timothy Woods and comprised of personnel from 425 Tactical Fighter Squadron at 3 Wing Bagotville, Que., supported by members of 2 Air Expeditionary Wing.

“Our highly-trained airmen and airwomen are committed to support NATO in safeguarding Allied airspace. Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task, and we are dedicated to contribute in keeping the Romanian skies safe and secure,” said Woods in a statement. “Our mission is to preserve peace and prevent conflict in the region.”

This is the 48th block of allied enhanced air policing since the NATO mission began in 2014, and the third time Canada has deployed to Romania. An air task force arrived at the 71st Air Base in Campia Turzii in 2014 and in Constanta in 2017, though the 2014 mission focused primarily on bilateral training and interoperability rather than air policing.

RCAF Hornets have also led NATO Baltic air policing missions over Lithuania in 2014 and more recently over Iceland in the spring of 2017.

“Our support to air policing in Romania is an important contribution and strong demonstration of our ongoing support to NATO, one of our most important multilateral relationships,” said defence minister Harjit Sajjan.

The air policing missions are not a response to any specific threat, a CAF spokesperson said, “but a fundamental component of how NATO provides security to its members.” The mission is carried out under the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System and requires jets to launch within minutes of an aircraft entering or nearing NATO’s area of functional responsibility that is not responding to air traffic control.

“In general, these events may involve civilian aircraft or so-called non-NATO military aircraft,” said the spokesperson.

Patrolling Romanian skies may be the primary purpose of the deployment, but joint training remains important. Previous air task force commanders and their teams have developed strong professional and personal relationships with the Romanian Air Force, sharing flying tactics, data exchange practices and other information on the CF-188 Hornets and Romanian MiG-21 Lancers and F-16 Fighting Falcons, recently acquired from Portugal.

Previous deployments have also involved multinational training exercises with other countries, including the United States, supporting NATO operations in the region.

“It is an awesome training opportunity for us because we are able to do almost any type of mission here,” LCol Mark Hickey, the air task force commander in 2017, told Skies at the time. “We’re learning a lot from them and they’re also learning from us.”

In 2017, Canadian air controllers worked with Romanian counterparts for the first time at a control and reporting centre in Bucharest, sharing and looking at a common recognized air picture.

NATO bills the mission has defensive in nature–all air policing is conducted in NATO airspace, though some flights may be conducted over international waters–but Canadian pilots are prepared to act if necessary.

“We’re flying whenever we want in the normal airspaces,” Hickey told Skies in 2017, echoing the words of Col Dave Pletz, the air task force commander in 2014. “Although we always stand ready and prepared, we really haven’t encountered any issues.”

BGen Iain Huddleston, the deputy commander of force generation for 1 Canadian Air Division in Winnipeg, Man., said RCAF members “are ready to contribute to this vital collective defence mission. Canadians can be proud of this contribution, as we build on the already strong relationship we have fostered with our Romanian and regional allies over the past several years.”

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