The US president, Joe Biden, said on 22 February that he had authorised additional movement of US forces and equipment already stationed in Europe to support America’s Baltic allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania against potential Russian threats; the enforcement includes lethal F-35 strike fighters and AH-64 Apache helicopters.
“Let me be clear: these are totally defensive moves on our part; we have no intention of fighting Russia,” Biden said at a press briefing, following Russia’s escalating aggression against Ukraine. “We want to send an unmistakable message, though, that the United States, together with our allies, will defend every inch of NATO territory and abide by the commitments we made to NATO.”
The Estonian defence minister, Kalle Laanet, confirmed Biden’s statement, saying the US was going to provide additional support to strengthen Estonia’s air defences. Laanet told the Estonian news outlet, Delfi, that this would mean there will be additional US fighter jets stationed at the Ämari Air Base in Estonia.
Eight F-35 fighters and 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters
The US Defense Department later announced that 800 soldiers from an Italy-based infantry battalion task force will be deployed to the Baltic states, without specifying to which country. Also, up to eight Air Force F-35 strike fighters from Germany will be sent to the Baltics, as well as an unspecified location on NATO’s southeastern flank.
In addition, an attack aviation battalion with 20 AH-64 Apache helicopters will be sent from Germany to the Baltics, and an attack aviation task force with 12 Apaches will be mobilised from Greece to Poland.
In January, the US enforced the Baltic Air Policing Mission with six American F-15s, based at Ämari Air Base – in addition to the four Belgian Air Force’s F-16s already stationed there.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania do not have an airborne air defence capability of their own. Therefore, the protection is provided by NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission whereby more powerful allies deploy their jets to Baltic states in intervals usually lasting half a year.
In early February, the UK announced it will deploy about 850 additional troops to Estonia. The troops will complement the 1,200-strong British-led NATO battle group already stationed in the country.