France and Germany took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Portugal and the United Kingdom on 31 August.
France will lead the mission until the end of the year, with four Mirage jets based at Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, while Germany will provide four Eurofighter Typhoon that will fly out of Ämari Air Base in Estonia.
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.
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.
The aircraft, alongside the pilots and the ground crews, will be on 24/7 stand-by to launch quickly in response to any unidentified aircraft approaching NATO airspace.
The latest handover of command marks the 42nd rotation for the mission, which gained extra prominence after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s increased military activity in the Baltic Sea region.
Apart from the Baltic states, NATO aircraft also guard the airspace of Albania and Slovenia.
Portugal and the UK guarded the skies over the Baltic airspace since May this year.
Cover: French Dassault Mirage 2000 (picture courtesy of bhmpics.com)