Belgian Air Force handed over the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission to the Spanish Air Force, with the Royal Air Force also joining to enhance the mission this summer to replace the already departed Portuguese Air Force.
The handover was marked by a small formal ceremony, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, where the Commander of the Lithuanian Air Force Colonel Guzas Dainius thanked the outgoing Belgian Air Force detachment for their outstanding support and warmly welcomed the Spanish Air Force and RAF to the Siauliai Air Base and Lithuania.
“We are representing four different countries with four different historical backgrounds…I express my appreciation to the Belgian Airmen and Women for their efforts in Baltic Air Policing, and now to the Spanish and UK Royal Air Force that will be on detachment for these next four months”, said Colonel Guzas Dainius, Commander of the Lithuanian Air Force.
According to the Belgian Air Force, its F-16 jets were scrambled 38 times and intercepted 64 aircraft during the mission for the past eight months.
This morning the @BeAirForce handed over the lead of #NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission to @EjercitoAire during a small ceremony at #SiauliaiAB. Throughout our 8-month presence safeguarding the #Baltic region, our #F16 jets were scrambled 38 times and intercepted 64 aircraft. pic.twitter.com/pDmjVvOwPh
— Belgian Air Force🇧🇪 (@BeAirForce) April 30, 2020
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing deployment is a defensive mission that sees allies sending planes to patrol the airspace of the three Baltic States, who do not have fighter jets of their own. 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.
The mission which has been running since 2004 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 which 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.