France and Germany take over protection of Baltic skies
In a ceremony on Wednesday (31 August), France and Germany took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Portugal and the United Kingdom, which guarded the skies over the Alliance’s Baltic member states since May.
France will lead the mission until the end of the year, with four Mirage jets based at Siauliai airbase in Lithuania. Germany will provide four Eurofighter Typhoon which will fly out of Amari in Estonia.
The aircraft, alongside pilots and ground crews, will be on 24/7 stand-by to launch quickly in response to any unidentified aircraft approaching NATO airspace. NATO jets have guarded the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania since the three countries joined the Alliance in 2004.
Today’s handover of command marks the 42nd rotation for the mission, which gained extra prominence after Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and Russia’s increased military activity in the Baltic Sea region. NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission regularly intercepts Russian military jets flying over international waters close to the Baltic States.
The Alliance conducts several air policing missions in which Allied fighter jets patrol the airspace of member nations which do not have fighter jets of their own. NATO aircraft guard the airspace over Albania, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovenia on a 24/7 basis, 365 days per year. Air policing usually involves having fighter aircraft on standby to respond and intercept aircraft that approach alliance airspace without permission or without following flight regulations.