France, Spain and the United Kingdom will take up NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission starting in May, guarding the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for the next four months.
The three NATO allies are replacing air force detachments from Belgium and Poland that have protected the Baltic airspace since January. The Spanish and British air force contingents will operate out of Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, while the French air force will fly from Ämari in Estonia. Spain is the lead nation for the mission, NATO said.
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.
In 2019, allied jets scrambled 200 times
The mission took on greater prominence following Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. “NATO aircraft routinely intercept Russian military aircraft near the Baltic states,” the alliance said, adding the Russian jets frequently fail to adhere to international air safety norms. “In 2019, allied jets attached to NATO’s Baltic air policing mission scrambled around 200 times to safeguard allied airspace.”
The air policing programme keeps fighter jets on alert 24/7 and ready to scramble in case of suspicious air activity close to the alliance’s borders.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO on 29 March 2004. NATO is an intergovernmental military alliance between 30 North American and European countries, established by Belgium, Canada, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, the UK and the United States in 1949.
Cover: A French Air Force Rafale-B aircraft of squadron 2/92 “Aquitaine” breaks formation after refueling from a US Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircraft assigned to the 351st Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron (EARS) over an undisclosed location, 17 March 2013. Photo by Jason Smith (Wikipedia).