ŠIAULIAI, Lithuania - NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission enters its 42nd rotation as Portugal handed over the lead of the mission to France at a ceremony held on 31 August at Šiauliai Air Base. For the next four months, until December 2016, a detachment of the French Air Force will be responsible to keep the skies over the Baltic NATO members, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, safe and secure. The ceremony, the traditional handover of a symbolic key to the Baltic airspace, was attended by high ranking civilian, military and political guests.
NATO founding member France is showing their commitment to Allied solidarity and airspace integrity for the sixth time over the Baltic countries since 2007; this is the second time the French Air Force leads the mission.
"I am really proud to receive this symbolic key to the Baltic airspace from our Portuguese friends. We will do our best to demonstrate how professional we are and how committed we are in the NATO missions”, says Lieutenant-Commander Boris Pomirol, Commander of the French Detachment.
The outgoing Portuguese Air Force detachment completed the third rotation after 2007 and 2014. Looking back at the four months of the mission, the Commander of the Portuguese detachment, Lieutenant-Colonel Luís Morais says: "I can confess that it has been a privilege and an honour, shared by all my detachment, to participate once again in such a united effort in the Baltic Region.”
All flights of the mission are commanded and controlled from NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Uedem, Germany. The operational responsibility rests with the Allied Air Command (AIRCOM), NATO’s single command for all air and space matters, headquartered in Ramstein, Germany. AIRCOM’s new Deputy Commander, Air Marshall Stuart Evans attended the ceremony himself, bidding farewell to the Portuguese and welcoming the French detachment on behalf of NATO, thanking both nations for their commitment to the Alliance.
"The Portuguese Detachment of 89 personnel operating their four F-16 aircraft has flown over 380 flying hours”, Air Marshal Evans points out as he thanks the detachment. "I would also like to welcome Lieutenant-Colonel Pomirol and his team from the ‘one-two’ Fighter Squadron, the ‘Storks’, who have brought their Mirage 2000-5s nearly 2000km from their home base at Luxeuil Air Base”, Evans addresses the French detachment.
Air Policing is a 24/7 NATO peacetime routine mission that is conducted to preserve the Alliance’s airspace integrity and is not a response to a specific threat. Some member nations, like the Baltics, who do not have the full range of air defence assets in their militaries, are assisted by Allies providing an Air Policing capability to ensure a single standard of airspace safety and security all over NATO. The BAP mission shows NATO’s determination to provide equal protection to all its members. Since the Wales summit in 2014, the mission has been augmented by a second detachment, operating out of Ämari, Estonia under NATO’s assurance measures to its Eastern members. This augmenting role was handed over today as well, going from the United Kingdom to Germany.
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Story by HQ AIRCOM