Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons of the Belgian Air Component have today taken over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission, after a ceremony at Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania.
Responsibility for airspace integrity over the Baltic states was transferred from the French Air Force, who had been on duty since April 30 this year. This is the third time that Belgian jets will perform the mission, with previous visits in 2004 and 2006/7.
The Baltic Air Policing mission was established in 2004, to assist Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania who have no airborne air defence capability of their own and was extended indefinitely in February 2012. The aim of the mission is to prevent unauthorised incursion into the airspace of the Baltic states and its most frequent duty is intercepting Russian aircraft and escorting them from the area. To the west of the Baltic states’ airspace is an air corridor often used by aircraft travelling to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad from territorial Russia.
A typical mission day includes two or three planned flights (known as TANGO scrambles) and responding to incidents as they occur. The detachment consists of six pilots; two with Quick Reaction Alert duties who respond to live or ALPHA scrambles (and must be airborne within ten minutes), two who are performing standard duties (usually training) and two who are at rest.
Over Easter this year, two Russian Tu-22M bombers flanked by four Su-27 fighters conducted simulated attacks on Stockholm, Sweden, and were escorted out of the area by Danish F-16s of the NATO mission. During their recent mission, French Mirage jets responded to seven ALPHA scrambles in their first six weeks.