1 of 2 | A Royal Air Force Typhoon during a sortie in support of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve over Iraq in 2017. The 'Eurofighter' Typhoon is the main combat aircraft of both the RAF and the German Air Force. File photo by Tyler Woodward/U.S. Air Force/UPI
March 6 (UPI) -- British and German air forces will patrol the skies over Estonia together for the first time as Britain prepares to take the lead of NATO's mission in the former Soviet Republic, the Ministry of Defense said Monday.
In a show of "unity," Royal Air Force and German Air Force Typhoon jets will fly integrated missions with the eventual aim of carrying out full joint and integrated NATO Air Policing missions in the future, the Defense Ministry said in a news release.
Around 300 RAF personnel from the 140 Expeditionary Air Wing are preparing to deploy to Estonia as the RAF prepares to take over NATO's long-established air-policing mission from the German Air Force in April.
The two air forces will begin by flying joint missions during the handover period, with the Germans departing Estonia at the end of the month.
The RAF's IX (Bomber) Squadron, based at Lossiemouth in the far north of Scotland, will operate the Typhoons which are being deployed to Estonia.
"Our RAF personnel in Estonia are undertaking a vital role, ensuring the security of Europe's skies and bolstering NATO's presence in eastern Europe," Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said.
"Joint operations of this kind, demonstrate the strength and unity of the NATO Alliance and our shared resolve to maintain peace and security across the region."
RAF Wing Commander Scott Maccoll, Commanding Officer of 140 EAW, called the partnership marked a "great first" for the two air forces, adding their cooperation "has now reached a new level."
"It continues to be an absolute pleasure to work with our German allies on all aspects of our mission -- from maintenance and operation of the jets to planning and logistic activities," Maccoll said.
The Labor opposition backed the move, with Shadow defense secretary John Healey describing his party's commitment to NATO cooperation with allies such as Germany as "unshakeable," but warned that cuts to Britain's defense spending budget posed a threat to the country's lead role in the alliance.
"Our RAF pilots will conduct these welcome exercises with total professionalism. But the Conservatives' mismanagement of defense projects such as Wedgetails and cuts to military transport planes are leaving the U.K.'s NATO obligations in doubt," he said. "Labor in government would apply a 'NATO test' to major defense programs to ensure our NATO commitments are fulfilled in full."
The German Air Force detachment is from the 71 Tactical Air Wing 'Richthofen'.
Commander Lieutenant Colonel Christoph Hachmeister said the detachment had been looking forward to working with their allies from the Royal Air Force on a live mission from the outset.
"Now we can demonstrate interoperability in these difficult times to protect our Baltic partners and NATO's eastern flank. The many years of good practice in working together will be the baseline for a successful cooperation."
Once 71 Tactical Air Wing hands off the mission they will remain in Estonia conducting integrated scrambles with the RAF until the end of the month before returning to Germany.