NATO, Russian jets hold first ever joint exercise

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NATO and Russian fighter jets began their first ever joint exercise Tuesday, teaming up in a bid to prevent attacks such as the September 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 air craft from Krakow" simulating a hijacked civilian aircraft, Polish defence ministry spokesman Major Waldemar Krzyzanowski told AFP.

Two Polish F-16s from the Krzesiny air base 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 that 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 taken part in NATO exercises before, an alliance official confirmed last week.

The aerial exercise will test the NATO-Russia Council Cooperative Airspace Initiative (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 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 centres, 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, Bodo in Norway and Ankara in Turkey.

© 2011 AFP

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