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An F-16 fighter jet
F-16s were used in the exerciseImage: AP

Joint exercise

June 7, 2011

NATO and Russia have conducted their first joint military exercises,'Vigilant Skies 2011,' meant to make passenger flights between NATO member states and Russia safer.


The Western military alliance NATO and Russia conducted their first ever joint exercise on Tuesday.

NATO and Russian fighter jets took part in an operation to simulate an attack by a hijacked civilian aircraft, similar to the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States.

In the simulation, dubbed "Vigilant Skies 2011," the hijackers were overpowered by passengers and crew in the civilian aircraft, but its navigation system was damaged in the struggle.

Polish F-16s intercepted the 'hijacked' plane over Polish airspace, before handing it on to Russian jets, which guided it to an airport in northern Poland.

The exercises are part of the NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative (CAI), which is meant to help prevent future terrorist acts from the air.

The CAI seeks to “improve air safety for the thousands of passengers using international flights between NATO airspace and Russian airspace, and by coordinating interceptions of renegade aircraft,” a NATO statement said.

Common threat

"We organized these exercises bearing in mind the joint threats we share as Russia and NATO - in this case we are looking at the kind of terrorism that developed and came out of Afghanistan," said Yuri Gorlach of the Russian Foreign Ministry's department on European cooperation.

Russian officials say the al Qaeda terror network is part of a growing insurgency in the country's restive North Caucasus region.

The only major attack involving Russian aircraft in recent years were the almost simultaneous bombings of two passenger planes in 2004, in which all 90 passengers and crew members were killed. Russian authorities said the bombers were two Chechen women.

The exercises are to continue until Friday, with NATO and Russian jets carrying out similar operations above the Black Sea and the border area between Russia and Norway.

The CAI operates out of coordination centers in Russia, Poland, Norway and Turkey.

Author: Chuck Penfold (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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