A question asked here recently "Is Switzerland vulnerable to aerial threats outside office hours?" kind of implies that this is something unusual. But is it really something unusual in Europe?

Do other mainland European countries maintain their Air Force on high alert (something like Quick Reaction Alert), having fighters ready to scramble and intercept within minutes at all times during normal peaceful times?

  • Mainland - so you're ruling out the UK?
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 15:07
  • 1
    @Jamiec: I know UK does indeed have squadrons on Quick Reaction Alert, which they maintained even though cold war is over. Makes sense, because the North Sea is where Russian long range recon and bombers operate. However, I don't really see how most of Western Europe would be under any direct treat.
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 15:10
  • @Jamiec: btw. I'm also excluding Iceland, which is known to have regular CAPs policing GIUK gap.
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 15:16
  • During the incident which revealed all that to the public and led to the other question, both Italy and France were able to scramble fighters.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 1, 2014 at 19:28
  • 1
    This is going to get lots of additional "This country does too" answers. I suggest we amalgamate them in to one answer. Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 0:20

3 Answers 3


Germany has two sqads of fighters on alert at all times.

From the official website of the German Air Force (Luftwaffe):

Die sogenannten „Quick Reaction Alert-Interceptor (QRA-I)“-Rotten sind beim Jagdgeschwader 71 „Richthofen“ in Wittmund mit dem Waffensystem F-4F Phantom und beim Jagdgeschwader 74 in Neuburg mit dem Waffensystem Eurofighter stationiert.

My translation:

The so-called "Quick REaction Alert-Interceptor (QRA-I)"-squads are stationed with the Jagdgeschwader 71 „Richthofen“ in Wittmund with the weapons system F-4F Phantom and the Jagdgeschwader 74 in Neuburg with the weapons system Eurofighter.

They state also:

Sie sind, wie auch die Kräfte der Einsatzführung, 24 Stunden am Tag, 365 Tage im Jahr in Bereitschaft und sichern kontinuierlich den deutschen Luftraum.

My translation:

They are, like the command staff, on alert for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and secure the german airspace.

  • 1
    Would you be open to either making this community wiki, or amagamating the answers about other countries into this one, so that we can get a (fairly) comprehensive list of the countries that do have such a capability, rather than one answer for each one? Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 0:22
  • Germany uses an airframe from the 1960's for its quick response.... oh and the Eurofighter, thats ok then.
    – Jamiec
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 7:44
  • @Jamiec: I was surprised by that too. That must be out of date, according to the wiki "The German Air Force retired its last F-4Fs on 29 June 2013." flightglobal.com/news/articles/…
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:13
  • This is probably a better article as it seems to be part of the regular web site and not a report from 2011. Commented Jul 5, 2014 at 13:52

France has similar missions.

Missions permanentes en métropole

Le plan Vigipirate

Conçu en 1978, le plan Vigipirate est un dispositif gouvernemental de défense, de vigilance et de prévention contre les actions terroristes.

L'armée de l'air assure les missions de mesures actives de sûreté aérienne (MASA). Aux côtés des centres de détection et de contrôle œuvrant 24 heures sur 24, des avions de combat et des hélicoptères sont en alerte et veillent en permanence à la sûreté aérienne du territoire national.

Première interception de l’année pour la PO

Un hélicoptère Fennec de la permanence opérationnelle (PO) a réalisé la première interception de l’année 2014 au profit de la sûreté aérienne. Jeudi 2 janvier 2014 à 12 h 34, l’équipage de l’hélicoptère Fennec d’alerte MASA (mesures actives de sureté aérienne) sur la base aérienne 107 de Villacoublay est « scramblé» (affecté à une mission en jargon opérationnel) pour intercepter un avion de tourisme. Il ne s’agit pas d’un exercice mais de la première alerte de l’année 2014.

Rapidement l’avion de tourisme est classé douteux. Il vient de pénétrer dans une zone interdite de survol : la zone sensible de Valduc (Côte-d’Or). Le centre national des opérations aériennes (CNOA), en charge 24h/24 de la sûreté aérienne du territoire national, propose alors à la haute autorité de défense aérienne (HADA) de faire intervenir les moyens dédiés.

French Air Force assumes QRA operations in Poland (13 May 2014)

Something similar happens in other countries.

Big misunderstanding sparks hijack alert at Amsterdam. F-16 fighter jets scrambled, Special Forces dispatched.


During the specific incident that revealed this to the public and led to news stories like the one mentioned in the earlier question, both France and Italy were able to scramble fighters.

In France, this mission is called “permanence opérationelle” and the air force is indeed supposed to have fighters but also radar systems and surface-to-air defense systems available at all times for this purpose. In total the air force's website claims that 900 personnel are involved in this at any one time. Since the UK (mentioned in your comments) and Germany (see Fabian's answer) do it too, it would seem that most middle-size European countries have something similar.

Debates in Switzerland tend to look at smaller countries like Austria (which shares a few things with Switzerland: similar size, location, neutrality, etc.). This interview with a researcher working on the topic suggests that every European country except Luxembourg, Ireland and Austria have more air force resources than Switzerland and that even Austria has some 24/7 interception capabilities so Switzerland would really seem somewhat unusual in this regard.

  • "every European country except Luxembourg, Ireland and Austria..." actually if I read this right that part refers to aircraft capable of ground attack.
    – vartec
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:27
  • @vartec Yes, you're reading this right but the rest of the interview suggests that it's a step up from merely having air-to-air capabilities like Austria. The interview is short on details, though. I tried to improve the answer to clarify that but I am not entirely happy about it, feel free to suggest something if you have a better idea.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 2, 2014 at 9:30

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