Beginning of 2015 marks handover with NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission
As 2014 drew to a close, so did the 36th rotation of the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. In a ceremony held at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, on 31 December 2014, the Portuguese Air Force handed over the responsibility of Baltic Air Policing to the Italian Air Force.
Canadian CF-188 Hornets parked at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania - Photo courtesy of Air Task Force - OP Reassurance, DND
"For a decade, NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission has been more than security assurance to the Baltic States,” said Colonel Audronis Navickas, Lithuanian Air Force Commander. "This collective effort is a good example demonstrating Alliance solidarity and commitment to provide the same standards of security to all its members.”
Four Portuguese F-16 aircraft, augmented by four Canadian CF-188 fighters, policed the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since September. Together with the two other augmenting Allies – Germany with 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.
"We achieved a clear ‘mission accomplished’ here at Šiauliai,” stated Portuguese Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco "Seeker” Dionisio. Adding, "More than 300 flight hours safely performed in over 150 sorties plus an added value from training performed with local and deployed forces show NATO’s greatest strength – joint air operations in a safe and efficient way.”
As of January 1st, Italy is at the helm of Baltic Air Policing with four Eurofighter jets. This is the first time Italy has taken part in this NATO mission which started in 2004 when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO.
"First of all I want to thank the Lithuanian Air Force for the warm welcome,” says the Italian Detachment Commander, Colonel Marco Bertoli. "The Baltic Air Policing mission is very important for my air force. Italy is now the first Ally to participate in all of NATO’s Interim Air Policing activities conducted over Albania, Slovenia and Iceland and – of course – over the three Baltic States”.
On 5 January, Polish MiG-29 fighter aircraft arrived once again at Šiauliai to augment the NATO mission that will last until the end of April. The Polish Air Force was the lead nation for the fifth time from May to September 2014.
In May 2014, NATO increased the number of Allied fighter aircraft conducting Baltic Air Policing in line with its assurance measures.
To complete the 37th rotation, Spanish Eurofighters arrived at Ämari, Estonia on 30 December to take over from the German Eurofighters, and Belgian F-16s will relieve the Dutch F-16s at Malbork, Poland later this month.