Polish and Russian fighters on Tuesday practiced coordinated intercepts of a mock hijacked airplane near their common border as part of Vigilant Skies 2011, the first-ever NATO-Russia counterterrorism air exercise. In the exercise scenario, a Polish aircraft taking off from Krakow acted as the “renegade” platform. Polish fighters intercepted it before handing it over to Russian fighters that escorted it back to Poland for landing. On Wednesday, Turkish and Russian fighters will carry out similar coordinated intercepts of a Turkish “renegade” aircraft over the Black Sea. Vigilant Skies falls under the NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative that is designed to prevent terrorist attacks using civilian aircraft as weapons, as happened on 9/11. The United States and Russia completed a similar air exercise last August over the Pacific near Alaska and the Russian Far East. (NATO release) (See also Associated Press report and Deutsche Welle report.)
The U.S. supports “a stronger and more capable” European defense, Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III said during an Oct. 22 press conference in Brussels—but that defense should not duplicate the functions and capabilities of the NATO alliance.