The most important requirement for a NATO mission fighter is the ability to perform Quick Reaction Alert missions. The Baltic Air Policing mission, which aims to safeguard the airspace of the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, requires the availability of fighter aircraft and crews for 24 hours a day. Gripen has excellent STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) capabilities and requires low maintenance and a limited amount of equipment and personnel, making it the perfect choice for any NATO mission.
Owing to its STOL capabilities, Gripen can be flown anywhere, anytime, and even in the most austere weather conditions. The fighter can be operated from dispersed and temporary air bases, on road strips that are only 800 x 16 m long and wide. With a turnaround time of just 10 minutes or less, Gripen can spend more time in the air which ultimately means higher sortie rates.
“Mobile ground resources and reduced need for tools, spare parts, personnel, and facilities, equals to reduced logistic footprint, which is extremely important for deployed operations. Even an entire engine can be replaced and tested in the field in less than an hour,” says Head of Business Unit Gripen Support, Niclas Kolmodin.
The role of Gripen fighters during a NATO air patrol deployment typically includes identification of aircraft that have not managed to establish contact with air traffic controllers, and support other forces stationed in the Baltics.
Over the years, the Hungarian and Czech Gripens have successfully participated and led a number of NATO missions, exercises and air policing assignments. As a part of their 2019 Baltic mission, the Hungarian Air Force Gripens were alerted more than 40 times. They also completed over 370 take-offs and over 400 flight hours during the four-month allied deployment.
As far as the Czech Air Force Gripens are concerned, their last NATO mission to protect the Baltic airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania ended in January this year. The Czech Gripens logged in a total of 200 flight hours within just a month of this mission. Besides Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) patrols, the Czech Gripen pilots also conducted training flights and low-level flights above sea, and participated in joint missions including Enhanced Forward Presence (EFP) as part of two alliance groups led by Canada and Germany in Latvia and Lithuania, respectively.