NATO has rotated its air policing mission in the Baltic with the Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare Italiana – AMI) assuming the lead on 2 January.
For the next four months, four AMI Eurofighter Typhoons will lead the mission out of Siauliai Airbase in Lithuania. These will be supported at the same location by four Polish MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ fighters, as well as by four Spanish Typhoons at Amari Airbase in Estonia and four Belgian Lockheed Martin F-16s at Malbork in Poland.
This ‘enhanced’ Baltic Air Policing Mission was stood up in May 2014 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the crisis with Ukraine, and will continue through to at least the end of 2015.
During a recent visit to Amari Airbase, the commander of the German detachment based there from September through to January told reporters that Russian Air Force activity in the region had been at an unprecedented high. In the four months that it was assigned to the mission, the German Air Force flew some 255 sorties, which was far more than previously the case before the current tensions with Russia.
According to NATO, aside from raising tensions, this increased air activity is posing a danger to commercial air traffic as Russian aircraft are invariably flying without flight plans or transponder, and are not communicating with air traffic control (ATC). To try and mitigate this increased risk, military authorities in Estonia and Finland are now sharing their primary radar data with civilian ATC operators.
The Baltic Air Policing Mission began in 2004 as a temporary measure to safeguard the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania until they developed their own air defence capabilities. However, in 2012 the alliance declared the mission to be permanent. Including this latest 37th rotation, 16 NATO nations have taken part.
- Italian Eurofighter Typhoons ready to take over lead role in NATO Baltic Air Policy (theaviationist.com)
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- 4 Italian jets to be deployed in Lithuania (worldbulletin.net)
- How Putin is saving RAF blushes over the much-maligned Typhoon (theguardian.com)