Saab Gripen fighter jets scrambled to thwart bomb threat on plane flying from Moscow to Istanbul
While several airlines have halted flights to and from Russia, some flights from neutral countries have continued operations at great risk.
The Hungarian Defense Forces had to scramble their Gripen aircraft after a bomb threat was reported on a Turkish commercial plane flying from Moscow to Istanbul in the early hours of March 21, local media Hungary Today reported.
The plane reportedly received a bomb threat over Polish territory, prompting NATO’s Joint Air Operations Center to send Hungarian Gripen fighter jets to intervene.
The Gripens detected the plane flying the Turkish flag as it entered Hungarian territory and escorted it to the Romanian border. The Gripen aircraft remained in the area and conducted patrols for some time before returning to Kecskemét base.
This is not the first time that the HAF has had to dispatch its Gripens. On March 19, a civilian Airbus A321 aircraft flying from Georgia to Poland also received a threat that required the intervention of Hungarian fighter jets, the news portal quoted above reported.
On March 16, a Serbian Airbus A-319 airliner flying from Belgrade to Moscow was turned back at the Hungarian-Slovakian border after Belgrade’s control tower informed Hungarian air traffic control that the plane was carrying a bomb. Serbia continued air operations with Moscow.
The Hungarian forces’ Gripen fighters were then alerted by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Center, which quickly recognized the Serbian aircraft and escorted it out of Hungarian airspace.
S predsjednikom @VladaRH @AndrejPlenkovic obišli smo mjesto pada besposadne letjelice. Danas će se iskopati glavni dio letjelice i ono što s ovog mjesta @VladaRH poručuje je to kako je ključ bolja i intenzivnija komunikacija među @NATO članicama. pic.twitter.com/zyzaQkqMZi
— MORH/MoD Croatia (@MORH_OSRH) March 12, 2022
Additionally, an unidentified Tu-141 “Strizh” reconnaissance drone crashed near Zagreb in Croatia last week.
The drone, which is known to have originated in Ukraine, flew over many NATO countries, including Hungary, before diving into Zagreb. It entered Croatian airspace from Hungary at a speed of 700 km/h at an altitude of 1,300 meters, according to authorities in Zagreb.
The drone hovered over Hungary for more than 40 minutes before crashing into Croatian airspace. Although Russia and Ukraine have denied launching the drone, military analysts believe Ukraine is the only known current operator of the Soviet-era Tu-141.
Saab Gripens From Hungary
The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is a Swedish-made fourth-generation single-engine multirole fighter aircraft. The C and D variants of this combat aircraft feature a large canopy that can accommodate two people. Equipped with the most modern armaments, the Gripen C series can perform a wide range of air-to-air, air-to-ground and reconnaissance operations.
The JAS 39 Gripen was first leased by Hungary in 2001, and the fighters went through many upgrades thereafter.
There are currently 12 aircraft in service which are mainly dedicated to protecting Hungarian airspace, although the Puma squadron of Gripens has also been tasked with patrolling Slovenian airspace since 2014.
The EurAsian Times previously reported that Hungary’s fleet of 12 Saab Gripen Cs and one D-Type will be upgraded to the latest MS20 Block 2 standard. The Swedish Defense Materiel Administration and Government Commissioner’s Office Hungarians signed an agreement to this effect in January 2022.
#Hungary to Modernize its Rented #Gripen Fleet – Defense Update: https://t.co/OL2huTgM6u via @defenceupdate @Saab You can listen to this article here: https://t.co/gRLQDNXD4A pic.twitter.com/Xpn3uLswGS
— Tamir Eshel (@defenceupdate) January 12, 2022
By improving Link16 (NATO Data Link) functionality and modernizing voice communication to the latest NATO secure communication standard, the HunAF Gripen fleet MS20 Block 2 upgrade significantly increases communication capability. In addition, NATO’s Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Mode 5 will help improve the recognition of coalition aircraft.
These upgrades to the Hungarian Gripen fleet will improve their interoperability with other NATO fighter aircraft and systems. These fighters have been instrumental in protecting the airspace of this NATO country which borders Ukraine. However, Hungary’s position in this conflict could prove uncomfortable for the military alliance.
Hungary is reluctant
Although a member of NATO, Budapest has chosen to support Moscow in the ongoing military conflict between the latter and Ukraine.
Hungary, which depends heavily on Russian energy supplies, has voiced its opposition to European Union sanctions against Russian energy companies, with its top diplomat indicating that Budapest will not agree to such measures. According to reports, the EU is considering joining the United States in imposing a ban on Russian oil imports.
Hungary will not support EU sanctions against Russia in the energy sector – and opposes the no-fly zone over Ukraine and the proposed peacekeeping mission by Poland.
— Oleksandra Matviichuk (@avalaina) March 21, 2022
Hungarian Finance Minister Mihaly Varga said earlier that the country’s position on current sanctions will be different from that of other countries.
He said that “any action against Moscow would also harm the Hungarian economy. Hungary will not support the extension of anti-Russian sanctions in the energy sector, as this would threaten both the national currency and the well-being of Hungarians.
This could divide the European Union on the issue of sanctions. A number of countries in Europe depend on Russian energy. This may be why Germany took its time disconnecting the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Hungary has declared that it will not allow the transit of lethal weapons to Ukraine through its territory. Orban sides with the war criminal Putin. At this point I wonder how safe it is for Ukrainian refugees to flee to Hungary
— Olga Tokariuk (@olgatokariuk) February 28, 2022
In addition, Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said during a visit to Kosovo a few days ago that Hungary will not send troops or weapons to Ukraine and will not allow deadly weapons to transit through its territory in order to ensure the security of the country. The country also opposed the imposition of a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine, endorsing NATO’s position on the matter.
Although Hungary has so far cooperated with NATO and used its fighters to chase down aircraft that are detrimental to the security of its own airspace as well as that of its neighbours, it is not on the same length of wave with the military alliance on several issues relating to the Ukrainian crisis.