Spain, France and the United Kingdom will take up NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission starting in May, guarding the skies over the Baltic region for the next four months.
The three NATO Allies are replacing air force detachments from Belgium and Poland which have protected the airspace of NATO’s three Baltic Allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since January. The Spanish and British air force contingents will operate out of Siauliai airbase in Lithuania, while the French air force will fly from Amari in Estonia. Spain is the lead nation for the mission.
“We thank Spain, France and the UK for taking over NATO’s Baltic-air policing mission”, said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu. “This 24/7 mission demonstrates that our commitment to the security of our Allies is rock-solid and that our vital work goes on despite the coronavirus pandemic,” she stressed.
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.
The RAF 6th Squadron Eurofighter aircraft are deploying to Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania where they will carry out the Baltic Air Policing mission for the summer, along with the Spanish Air Force, who will be deploying F-18 Hornet fighters. This is a core UK defence task that the RAF is able to continue in addition to supporting the NHS, and other Government departments during the current COVID-19 Pandemic. The 6th Squadron detachment will be augmented by other personnel from across the Service to form 135 Expeditionary Air Wing, which consists of around 150 personnel who will be well equipped and trained to deliver this NATO Air Policing role.
137 airmen and the 6 F-18 Hornets from Ejercito del Aire (Spanish Air Force) Ala 15 (15th Wing), Zaragoza AB, are deploying to Lithuania. Support personnel, mechanics and other crews flew to the Baltic in a C-130H Hercules and an Airbus A-400M Atlas, both from Ala 31 based in Zaragoza. Thus, once again, the expeditionary nature of the Spanish Air Force, capable of deploying and operating its capabilities thousands of kilometers from its bases in Spain, is evident, as happened last February with the deployment of the Eurofighters from Ala 11 and Ala 14 in Nellis (Nevada, USA) to participate in the Red Flag exercise. Since 2006 the Spanish Air Force wings have participated in this Baltic Air Police missions.