Moderator: Good morning from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome everyone joining us today for today’s press briefing. Today, we’re very pleased to be joined by Major General Joel L. Carey, Director of Operations, Strategic Deterrence, and Nuclear Integration, U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa, and Brigadier General Christoph Pliet, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at NATO’s Headquarters Allied Air Command.
And as a reminder, today’s call is on the record. And with that, let’s get started. I’d like to turn the floor over to our generals to – for their opening remarks. Thank you so much for joining us today. The floor is yours.
Brigadier General Pliet: Thank you, Andrea, for the good opportunity for us to explain air shielding and what was the new [inaudible] after 24th of February. So NATO met in Madrid, and they decided on a new NATO strategy. And that was actually not only the starting point, but it was a continuation of what we did in the past; 24th of February we started the operations on the eastern flank to assure our partners and to deter and shield against any possible Russian aggression.
So what we did is we provided – kept flying on the eastern flank, but we did that purely in the initial stage of the phase to just be sure that no territories invaded from Russian aggression. So what we do now is we will provide in a different framework with air shielding – that is a new expression – above and beyond what we did in the past. So with the standard air policing assets we did in the past, we will provide air assets which will be flying on the eastern flank to assure our partners that NATO is ready and able to fight for our countries; and we’ll, on the contrary as well, increase our readiness by training to bring up the capabilities of our partners back to what we need to ensure that nobody will attack NATO.
So I think that is a good concept and it will be sustained. It’s sustainable. We will start right away; it’s actually started already, on July 1st. And we will deploy assets from the United
States, our biggest partner, of course, and from other [inaudible] nations to the eastern flank for a period of four to, let’s say, six months maximum to support our operations. NATO Headquarters in Ramstein will coordinate that. We are the [inaudible]. All NATO nations provide their assets to NATO, and we will coordinate all those operations on the eastern flank. And I would like to thank our biggest partner, the United States, for their great contribution to that mission.
Over to you, Joel.
Major General Carey: Good afternoon, Andrea. Thanks. And colleagues on the line, good for – good to have a chance to interact with you today. And Brigadier General Pliet, a good friend, kind of laid a pretty good framework for the information we’re about to discuss today.
But as part of one of 30 in the NATO Alliance, we continue to support the initiative that General Pliet described, and I think in addition to what we’ve provided for years and contributing to the security and the deterrence 360 degrees around the Alliance. And we’ve reinforced the assurance and deterrence on the heels of activities in February. But this offers an opportunity in addition to our traditional air policing, enhanced air policing, and Baltic air policing, to provide that additional level of security that we know is now required with the change in environment in Eastern Europe post-invasion of Ukraine, and do it in a way that is sustainable, as our Allies contribute to this air shielding concept.
For the U.S., just as with the recent deployment of the F-35s to Amari, Estonia, it allows us to continue to develop our agile combat employment concept, and bringing that capability and expanding on that capability to remain agile and responsive in support of our NATO Allies.
And then lastly, just that I’m proud to be part of and contribute to this team as we continue to provide that reassurance and deterrence effect for our partners. And we’ll pause there for any questions you might have.
Moderator: Wonderful. Thank you very much. We’ll now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. Okay. And our first question will go to Marek Świerczyński from Polityka Insight from Poland, who asks: “Is the current state of allied air and missile defense in the region sufficient, given the expanding NATO/U.S. posture on NATO eastern flank and the possible Russian threat? On the U.S. President’s announcement on adding two F-35 squadrons to the UK, can you clarify if this is indeed an addition of 5-gen or transition from the F-15 fleet to F-35 of the squadrons based there, and what is the timeline on the process?” Kind of multiple questions there.
Brigadier General Pliet: So I guess first part you and then – or first part me and then you?
Major General Carey: Okay.
Brigadier General Pliet: Okay. Thanks for the question. You are asking whether the assets we currently have on the eastern flank are sufficient to do the mission. So number one, you would have to ask what is the mission. The mission at the moment is to deter Russian invasion into Europe, and no inch of allied territory can be [inaudible] to the Russians. That is the number one task.
Do we have indications at the moment the Russians – that the Russians have any intent to attack NATO territory? We cannot see that at the moment. So we have information, of course, that – and we monitor their movements, their troops, and we know exactly where they are at the moment, and we cannot see any intent that they want to attack us.
So therefore, we are currently in a shield, so in case if a miscalculation happens, an aircraft mistake by a party that’s coming over into NATO territory, we want to intercept him and to interrogate, bring him back into his own territory, and it’s not a defensive posture at the moment – we are in peace time – but we are vigilant and are able to bring more forces to the front should the situation dictate. But at the moment we cannot see that, so the clear answer will be yes for the mission we presently have, the forces are sufficient.
Major General Carey: Yeah, thanks, Chris. This is Major General Carey. One thing I would add – and I am in full agreement with what General Pliet stated as we do continue to train and exercise and test these capabilities that we have, our integrated air and missile defense as we continue to defend NATO territory. And what that – so we’re not resting; continue to improve in how we cooperate with our Allies and partners and continue to develop that readiness and the tactics, techniques, and procedures that need to continue to improve and evolve as our potential competitors do.
For the question about F-35s and the UK, as many saw, the F-15Cs have redeployed back to the States, and then – so yes, the F-35s as they come in, it is an additional 5th-gen force. But as was announced, we – the F-15C model air-to-air capability did move back to the United States.
Moderator: Thank you very, very much. Our next question comes from Nicholas Fiorenza from Janes Defence Weekly, who asks: “What military preparations are being made to accept the Swedish and Finnish air forces and armed forces in general into NATO, and how will the two countries be covered by the U.S./NATO nuclear umbrella?”
Major General Carey: I’ll touch on that and then you can – you can, Chris. This is Major General Carey again. Of course, as military members of this Alliance, we’re waiting for the – our political leadership to pass their direction as we – if and when and how we move forward in support of those policies. But the – we continue among the Alliance, as we talked about in the question about integrated air and missile defense, we continue to train and develop partnerships and communication among nations here in Europe, some outside the Alliance currently such as Finland and Sweden, and looking for – to remain within the guidance that we’ve been given and the policy we’ve been given to improve that cooperation and have those relationships that we will be able to build off of if and when the coming or accessing into the Alliance is finalized.
Brigadier General Pliet: And Chris Pliet speaking, and I might add to the discussion that it’s, of course, a political discussion. We just had the NATO summit where it was accepted that Finland and Sweden might go through the accession process. And the tasks which are connected to bring Finland and Sweden into NATO – the organization itself – then will be organized and steered by NATO headquarters.
So we on the air side, we are prepared. We had some initial discussions with our partner nations already. The integration of Sweden and Finland is anyways quite strong already beyond the alliance integration. So they are practicing day to day with us. We do a lot of exercises with them. So it’s just a step which has been done in the past already, and beyond that step you see partnership – and not only partnership, but you see membership in the NATO Alliance.
Moderator: Thank you very much. We’d now like to go to one of our dial-in callers, Jennifer Svan from Stars and Stripes in Germany. Jennifer, you can unmute yourself and ask your question. Go – let’s see. Nope. Let me see if we can unmute you. Yeah, so you should be able to dial * and 6 on your phone in order to ask your question.
Okay. Let’s see. Let me go ahead and move on to our next question, and we’ll see if we can come back to Jennifer. Our next question comes from Thomas Wiegold, who asks: “My question: We’re seeing a lot of announcements of jets to the eastern flank but not that much to GBAD. Do we – have we missed something?”
Brigadier General Pliet: So, Chris Pliet. Let me start. You mean ground-based air defense, so we’re talking about missile systems which defend against air and missile threats. We have some of the units deployed. Please allow me not to specify where they are situated at the moment. And actually those are defensive measures. At the moment, as I alluded to, indicators and warnings do not show that there is an attack imminent or we foresee them within some weeks or months to come. So, of course, the nations are withholding their own ground-based air defense systems back as there is not really a requirement to fully deploy it to the eastern flank at the moment.
You need to do training as well in your own locations. You need to practice TTPs and tactics and procedures. You need to have your readiness high, so you need to do logistical tasks as well. And we have those assets at the eastern flank which support our mission at the moment, and I say it’s sufficient at the moment. Should the tensions increase, then of course we would have to reassess. Thank you.
Moderator: Okay. And I will now try to go to Jennifer Svan from Stars and Stripes. Jennifer, you can ask your question.
Question: Hello. Can you hear me?
Moderator: Yes, we can.
Question: Hello. Oh, okay. Thank you. Yes, thanks for the chance to ask a question. I was just wondering if you could just – with the air shielding concept, can you just explain a little bit more or clarify what – what is new that you’re doing that you weren’t doing before?
Brigadier General Pliet: Do you want? Okay, then I can do that. Okay, I’ll go ahead. So in the past —
Brigadier General Pliet: So Chris Pliet again, and we had to coordinate before, and I’m sorry. Jennifer, in the past we had air policing, a lot of assets, and we are counting approximately 60 to 80 assets depending on the bloc for air policing on the eastern flank from north to south. So from Turkey up to the Baltic states, which we are supporting always any missions which were coming up, so aircraft entering NATO airspace, non-NATO military —
Brigadier General Pliet: — assets, all when you had aircraft which were [inaudible] so they had not the right frequency setting, civilian assets. Those were the main tasks.
Now we have a new task, and beyond those air policing assets, we will deploy additional assets to the eastern flank, rotational. So from four to – four weeks to six months, that will foster the eastern flank deployment and have an additional capability to react on a very short notice and not specifically only from one place but could do deployments to other bases as well, come back to the original base to foster the defense or the vigilance on the eastern flank.
Question: Okay. And the —
Brigadier General Pliet: Is that good for you?
Question: — the F-35 – the F-35s in Estonia right now are an example of that concept being put into action?
Major General Carey: This is Major General Carey. Yes, that is true. And as General Pliet stated, this is – this is different in that – refer back to last summer in 2021 and the posture of air policing, enhanced air policing and Baltic air policing. As we presented forces and posture as we saw increased tensions in Ukraine and then at the invasion, when that happened on February 24th because of the conflict in Ukraine, and the weapons that are being employed and flying through the air and the Russian aircraft and the activity – although, as General Pliet stated, we don’t – we don’t believe their intent is to – is to attack NATO, but we did elevate our presence there to prepare and deter.
And this is the latest in – as we have learned from the environment and we continue to adjust and develop a sustainable yet elevated posture, and we’re going to do that through a rotational air shielding presence that adds those capabilities, both air and ground-based air defense assets and the supporting enablers that we need to present that rotational force to continue to provide that shielding and assurance effect for Allies and partners.
Moderator: Great. Thank you so very much. Our next question comes from Alex Yanevskyy with Voice of America, and he asks: “What lessons from the Russian air operations in Ukraine have been learned? How exactly have they impacted NATO’s planning in the air domain?”
Brigadier General Pliet: Okay, I start it off. We of course – we cannot openly discuss all the tactics and procedures the Russians are using. What I can tell you is that we are monitoring every day what Russian forces are doing in Crimea and the Donbas area, and we have a quite good understanding on how the Russians are fighting the Ukrainians. And we can see that the success they had was not that great.
As everybody was understanding in the beginning, we thought that they would be faster, but the Ukrainian population, the Ukrainian military is doing a very good job in defending their whole country. And of course this has to do with individual nations of the Alliance, not – outside of the Alliance as well, to support the Ukrainian military in their effort to defend their country. And do we see tactics and procedures from the Russians we were astonished of? No. We expected what they would do. This is actually in line with our expectations, so there’s no surprise on our side. We of course adapt to changing situations, but I can say that we expected everything which was happening. Thank you.
Major General Carey: This is General Carey. The one thing I would add to General Pliet’s comments: I mean, we’ve – this has been an opportunity as part of the Alliance to continue to improve on our already solid information sharing among allies, and with that to continue to improve and prepare for, if attacked, to be able to respond. And so we continue to learn how we can across the Alliance to ensure that we’re ready to do that.
Moderator: Thank you very much. And our next question comes from Gérard Gaudin from the Belgian News Agency. He wants to know a little bit more about the CAPs flow – CAPs flow by NATO fighters above the eastern flank?
Brigadier General Pliet: Can you specify the question? I can – I can talk a bit about it. So Chris Pliet speaking again. So what we established in the days before the invasion of Ukraine started was airspace on the eastern flank, which is coordinated with EUROCONTROL because it’s civilian airspace owned by the civilians in most of the countries. Some of the countries took back the authority of the airspace – for example in Poland – for their own military. And we have established in those airspaces on the eastern flank specific areas which are only for our operations, which are called CAP areas.
This airspace is limited in time and space. And we sent our fighter aircraft into those areas to show vigilance and to show deterrence to the Russians. But that does not mean that they are limited to those areas. It only means that they are flying in the areas and show their presence. If a situation dictates, they easily can leave those areas and then intercept any aircraft or any event which might happen within NATO territory. Thank you.
Moderator: Okay. I think those – that’s all the questions that we have today. Thank you very much to all of our journalists for your questions and thank you, Major General Carey and Brigadier General Pliet, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d like to see if our speakers have any final remarks for the group.
Major General Carey: First, Andrea, again, thank you. Thanks for what you and your team do to pull this together and have an opportunity to explain and be challenged on what we’re doing.
We’re proud of it, and I think the Alliance has really risen to the occasion. We’re not resting on that. We continue to prepare, and we’re excited about the potential for additional alliance partners. And – but we – in the meantime, air shielding, I think, gives us a good model for into the future for how we continue to defend and deter with our NATO partners.
So thank you for your time.
Brigadier General Pliet: I cannot agree more. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to the broader audience and to a lot of journalists from all over the world. What I can see is that despite the fact that, of course, war is always tragic and a lot of people are losing their lives, it brought back the sense of unity to the Alliance and helps us elevate to a new level and helps us to challenge any threats which we might see in NATO. So it’s a good opportunity for NATO as well.
Moderator: Wonderful. Thank you very much for taking part in our briefing today. For all of our journalists, shortly we’ll send the audio recording and video recording of the briefing to all participating journalists and provide a transcript as soon as it’s available. We’d also love to hear your feedback, and you can contact us at any time at TheBrusselsHub@state.gov. Thank you again for your participation, and we hope you can join us for another press briefing soon.