Detachments conducting the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states have changed over. After four months of safeguarding the Baltic skies, the Italian Air Force handed over the mission to the Belgian Air Force who will lead and fly the mission with four F-16 Fighting Falcons. Their strength will be enhanced by the French Air Fore Detachment with four Mirage2000.
“The Alliance collective defence commitment has a special meaning in the current security situation. The air policing is a proof of NATO solidarity and credibility. The Allies play a critical role ensuring protection of the Baltic skies and enhancing readiness for deterrence and defence. This is exactly why we continue consulting with NATO Allies about the possibility to deploy additional fighter aircraft and ground-based air defence systems in Lithuania,” said Vice Minister of National Defence Žilvinas Tomkus who attended the official Hand Over-Take Over ceremony at the Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai on November 30.
The Italian troops were farewelled and the Belgian and French welcomed by the Chief of Defence of Lithuania Gen Valdemaras Rupšys, Deputy Chief of Staff Support at the NATO Headquarters Allied Air Command Brigadier General Gilles Juventin, Chief of the Defence Staff of Italy Adm Giuseppe Cavo Dragone, Chief of Staff of the Lithuanian Air Force Col Devis Martusevičius and Commander of the Air Base Lt Col Eligijus Rukšnaitis, representatives of Šiauliai City, and other guests.
The Belgian Air Force will be providing its seventh rotation of the mission. It includes approx. 80 members: pilots, technicians, medical personnel, support groups, communications specialists, etc.
The French will be guarding the Baltic skies for the seventh time as well with a contingent of strength of approx. 100 military specialists of different areas.
The outgoing Italian detachment was protecting the Baltic airspace with four Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft. Over the course of the deployment they were also generously engaging in community support events in Panevėžys.
NATO Allies have been deploying troops and assets to guard the Baltic airspace since March 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO. Since then, 17 Allies have flown the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states. The mission completed by the Italian Air Detachment will the 63rd since the launch of the NATO Baltic Air Policing effort in 2004.
Photo credits: Lithuanian Air Force Base / Antanas Gedrimas