Russian and NATO fighter jets will hold their first ever joint exercise next week, teaming up in a bid to prevent attacks such as the September 11, 2001 strikes on the United States, the alliance said Wednesday.
The aircraft will take part in a four-day event that begins on June 6, dubbed "Vigilant Skies 2011," with flights over Poland and the Black Sea.
Two Polish F-16s will intercept a "renegade" airplane on June 7 after its take-off from Krakow and then hand the mission over to two Russian Sukhoi jets that will guide the plane to the northern Polish city of Malbork.
The next day over the Black Sea, three Turkish F-16s and two Russian Sukhois will intercept a rogue plane that has deviated from its flight plan and lost communication.
This is the second major exercise announced between the former Cold War foes after a Russian submarine joined for the first time a submarine rescue exercise off the Spanish southern coast that started on Monday and ends on June 10.
Russian fighter jets never took part in NATO exercises before either, an alliance official said.
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," the alliance said in a statement.
The initiative will "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 exercise will be a "major milestone" towards reaching operational capability of the system, NATO said.
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."
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.