Italy and Germany will continue contributing to the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states in 2021, Lithuanian Ministry of National Defense announced.
Italian and German air force detachments with Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft deployed on the mission in September 2020 and will take the next round of duty of completing air policing tasks in and protecting the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as demonstrating Alliance solidarity in the region, as of January 1. Italy will continue leading the 55th rotation of the mission from the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai and Germany will continue providing augmentation from the Estonian Air Force Base in Amari.
At a symbolical changeover of Italian rotations ceremony in mid-December at the Šiauliai Airbase, Commander of the Italian Air Force Detachment at Šiauliai Colonel Antonio Di Matteo underscored that the pilots had successfully provided collective defence and deterrence by safeguarding the Baltic Airspace alongside the German colleagues.
“Since we arrived here in early September, the roughly 120 women and men of my team from across the Italian Air Force have outstandingly and professionally executed the NATO mission patrolling the skies over the Allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Over that time, our fighter jets have carried out 20 alert scrambles responding to approaches to the eastern NATO airspace border and that way ensuring collective defence and deterrence,” he said. “We have completed the 54th rotation of the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission and we will be continuing the mission until April without interruption and holding up to our highest standard.”
“I thank the Italian troops on behalf of all Lithuania for the secure skies and the discipline of operation in the present-day situation – and taking the coronavirus pandemic as a new reality that calls for persistent pursuing of one’s set goals rather than an obstacle,” Commander of the Lithuanian Air Force Colonel Dainius Guzas thanked the Italian allies.
The Italian Eurofighter pilots carry out the mission under the overall control of NATO’s Northern Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, and at tactical level they are guided by the three Baltic Control and Reporting Centres in Vilnius, Tallinn and Lielvarde that also constantly provide radar data which contributes to the recognised air picture ensuring permanent awareness of the air situation in the region. Italian ground crew, operators and support services ensure a 24/7 readiness of the fighter aircraft, and the Lithuanian Host Nation supports the real-life requirements of the deployed unit.
Aside from the NATO air policing functions, the Italian and German airmen also train together with the Lithuanians, Latvians, Estonians, and other allies in the region. “This truly collective operational effort is complemented by the high-value training activities we supported,” said Colonel Di Matteo. “My team cooperated with the Allies and Partners in the Baltic area carrying out training missions with our German Eurofighter colleagues, flying Close Air Support sorties for the Forward Air Controllers from NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battlegroups in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and supporting training missions with naval assets in the Baltic Sea. Our work enabled us to increase the integration and cooperation with our NATO Allies and contributed to maintaining regional security.”
“I am also impressed by the way the Italian and Lithuanian teams have ensured our important Allied missions continues in this unique situation worldwide due to the coronavirus. Executing the mission in a disciplined way and complying with strict anti-COVID-19 measures “It has not only protected our people, but also allowed us to protect the Baltic Allies. We are ready to continue the mission into 2021”, commander of the Italian NATO’s Air Policing Mission rotation Colonel Antonio Di Matteo said.
The NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states has been conducted without interruptions since 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO. The mission was enhanced in 2014 as a result of the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Fighter aircraft deployed by NATO allies are held on high alert to scramble and intercept Russian fighter jets that frequently approach the Baltic airspace and do not respect international rules of aviation safety.
NATO Headquarters in Ramstein and Mons ensure a continued and effective coordination and management of air policing over the Baltic States, and the capabilities are allocated by the Allies. The ongoing NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states demonstrates NATO’s unity and shared determination of the Allies to ensure allied defence and deterrence.