July 30 (UPI) -- NATO tracked and intercepted four Russian planes, traveling without flight plans or transponder codes, over the Baltic Sea, the bloc announced on Friday.
Aircraft of the Air Policing force, including Eurofighters of Spain's air force and F-35 fighter planes of Italy's based at Amari, Estonia, and Siauliai, Lithuania, scrambled to intercept two Russian Il-22PP MUTE electronic warfare reconnaissance planes, an Su-24 fighter plane and an Il-76 transport plane on Thursday.
After the Russian planes left Russia's Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad, they were tracked by NATO's Combined Air Operations Center in Uedem, Germany.
Although the Russian planes never entered NATO nations' airspace, they nonetheless traveled without identifying themselves or their destination, and "thus posed a potential risk to civilian flights," the NATO statement said.
The Air Policing mission began in 1961, with special emphasis on the Baltic Sea since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, all former Soviet states, joined NATO. Responsibility for policing the Baltic Sea rotates among NATO members every four months.
The Russian defense ministry typically does not comment on incidents as described by NATO on Friday, but 2021 has seen an increase in Russian flyovers with no use of communications equipment.
In March, NATO planes were scrambled 10 times in a six-hour period in response to potential unsafe flights by Russian military aircraft near Norway and over the North Sea, Baltic Sea and Black Sea.
Russian fighter planes, bombers and surveillance aircraft were intercepted over the Baltic Sea by NATO F-16s and Eurofighter planes in April, when two Tu-160 Blackjack bombers and an A-50 Mainstay airborne warning plane, escorted by Su-27 and Su-35 fighter aircraft, flew from Russia to the Baltic Sea and then returned.
In early July, the scrambling of fighter planes at Siauliai to intercept two Russian aircraft interrupted the news conference of Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.