On 31 December at the a ceremony, held at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai, the key for the Baltic airspace was handed over from the Portuguese Air Force to the Italian counterparts. Since 1 January Italy will be the lead nation of the NATO Air Policing Mission over the Baltic States, reinforced by Poland.
“First of all, let me thank the brave Portuguese and Canadian airmen and airwomen who in the time of growing demand security have successfully completed their mission. I am extremely grateful to the governments of those countries as they understand the necessity of solidarity now, when it is needed the most. Being together we can achieve many things. And it is very important that we can trust our partners in the days like this, when the geopolitical situation in the region is tense, and the deterrence measures are essential,” Mr. Juozas Olekas, Lithuanian Minister of National Defence said at the ceremony in Šiauliai.
According to the Portuguese Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Dionisio, they had achieved a clear ‘mission accomplished” at Šiauliai. “More than 300 flight hours safely performed in over 150 sorties plus an added value from the training we performed with local and deployed forces and show NATO’s greatest strength, ” the Commander of the outgoing detachment underlined.
Four Portuguese F-16 aircraft, augmented by four Canadian CF-188 fighters, completed four months of policing the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Together with the two other augmenting Allies – Germany, with the Eurofighter aircraft out of Ämari Air Base, Estonia, and the Netherlands, with F-16 jets out of Malbork, Poland – the NATO fighters conducted about 70 intercepts over the Baltic Sea.
The incoming detachment of Italian Air force will participate in the 37th NATO Air Policing mission and it will be their first rotation in this mission. For the mission, Italy has deployed four Eurofighter Typhoons in Šiauliai.
“We are ready for the task and to protect and defend the Baltic air space, “Colonel Marco Bertoli, Commander of the incoming Detachment of the Italian Air Force said.
On 5 January, four Polish MiG-29 fighter aircraft are due to arrive once again at Šiauliai to augment the NATO mission that will last until the end of April. Already from May to September 2014 the Polish Air Force was the lead nation at Šiauliai, participating for the fifth time.
To complete the new rotation over the Baltic air space, Spanish Eurofighter Typhoons will arrive to patrol from Ämari, Estonia, and Belgian soldiers with the F-16s to conduct the mission from Malbork, Poland.
NATO Air Policing Mission is the cornerstone of Alliance’s solidarity and cohesion. Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task. NATO applies the same security standards to all Member States that do not have their own capabilities, including the Baltic States.
The Alliance takes its responsibility to ensure the safety and integrity of its airspace very seriously – when an aircraft flies close to or enters NATO members’ airspace without prior coordination or planning, both commercial and military air traffic could be placed in danger. NATO jets routinely identify, intercept, and escort such planes as precautionary measures.
In line with NATO’s extensive assurance measure, Allies have offered additional assets under the NATO Air Policing framework since April 2014.