Spanish Typhoon on the platform in winter conditions during their Baltic Air Policing mission.
Photo courtesy of: Spanish Air Force.
Fighter aircraft from Italy, Poland, Spain and Belgium took over NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission on January 1, 2015 and will continue to patrol the skies over Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia with a total of sixteen aircraft over the next several months. NATO has quadrupled the number of NATO fighter jets monitoring the airspace over the Baltic states since early 2014. This is one of several prudent and defensive measures taken by NATO in response to the security challenges posed by Russia's recent destabilising actions and use of hybrid warfare in Eastern Europe.
The Alliance has observed a steady increase in Russian military air activity near its borders and the overall nature of Russian air activity has changed. It is now more assertive and frequent compared to previous years. Allies have voiced concerns about the timing, locations and composition of Russian flights, particularly in the context of a dramatically changed security environment. Last year, NATO aircraft assigned to the Baltic Air Policing Mission conducted over 150 interceptions of Russian military aircraft, which is about four times as many as in 2013.
"We are concerned about these numbers because it represents a higher than normal amount of Russian air activity close to our borders," said Lieutenant Colonel Riivo Valge, Chief of Staff of the Estonian Air Force. "Specifically the amount of transport and fighter air activity has been increased," he said.
Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task. For member nations not having the full range of Air Defence assets in their own militaries (Albania, Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovenia, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia), agreements exist to ensure a single standard of security within NATO's Area of Responsibility.
The air policing mission above the Baltic States illustrates the ability of the Alliance to share and pool existing capabilities. It started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. So far, 16 NATO nations have participated in this mission. This is an important confidence building measure to demonstrate the Alliance solidarity and resolve not only to current members, but also to our partners and future potential members. Air Policing has been, and remains, the cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion.
When asked about the importance of NATO's Air Policing Mission, Lieutenant Colonel Valge said: "The increased presence of NATO aircraft in the Baltic region helps to reassure the people of the Estonia."
Currently the Italian Air Force is leading the Baltic Air Policing mission operating out of Siauliai airbase in Lithuania. It is the first deployment for Italy to the Baltic mission and that makes Italy the first Ally to participate in all NATO's interim air policing activities conducted over Albania, Slovenia, Iceland and now the three Baltic States.
"We are proud to conduct this important mission," said the Italian detachment commander, Colonel Marco Bertoli. "The Baltic Air Policing Mission is very exciting because we don't know what to expect until after we are scrambled. Our mission is to intercept and identify an unknown aircraft and report our findings back to the NATO chain of command through the Combined Air Operation Centre in Uedem (Germany)," he added.
Story by SHAPE Public Affairs Office