On May 4, 2016 Portugal officially received
the key to the Baltic airspace and became the lead nation for NATO's 41st Baltic Air Policing (BAP) rotation,
ensuring safe and secure skies above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. In a
ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, attended by high-ranking civilian and
political representatives, the BAP lead role solemnly passed from the Spanish
Air Force to the Portuguese Air Force.
The Lithuanian Air Force Air Base at Šiauliai
has been NATO's main BAP base since the mission started in April 2004.
Seventeen Allies have since taken turns in deploying their interceptor jets to
the base on four-month rotations. They all enjoy the support by the host nation,
Lithuania, which serves as a foundation for successful mission accomplishment.
The Lithuanian Vice Minister of National
Defence, Mr. Marijus Velička bade farewell to the Spanish and welcomed the
Portuguese detachment saying "I cannot but observe that two most Southwest Allies,
Spain and Portugal, are today taking shifts of this NATO peacetime mission, in
the Northeast side of the Alliance. This is A perfect example of 360 degree
collective security application in practice." He added that NATO adaptation and
assurance measures are and will be making the difference, deterring further
destabilization of international order and security in the Eastern flank of the
Spain effectively executed their second BAP
deployment as lead nation in Siauliai after 2006; in early 2015, Spanish
Eurofighter jets also augmented the 37th BAP rotation.
"When we took over the NATO mission from
the Hungarians here last January, we did so with the determination of
completing the mission in the most efficient manner," said Lieutenant Colonel
Juan Antonio Ballesta Miñarro, Commander of the Spanish BAP detachment, in
charge of approximately 130 air and ground crew operating four Spanish
Eurofighter jets. "Time has proven us right as we have successfully completed
100 % of our tasked missions," he added. "We have had the chance to train with
Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian controllers at CRC Karmelava further improving
our operational readiness and performance. Surely, none of all this would have
happened without the untiring outstanding support provided by Host Nation
An interesting four months lie ahead of the
Portuguese Air Force detachment of approximately 90 military personnel and four
F-16 fighter jets at Šiauliai. Portugal takes off for the third time as the BAP
lead nation after 2007 and 2015.
"Portugal is proud and honoured of leading,
one more time, this important mission here in the Baltic Region," said Lieutenant-Colonel
Francisco "Seeker" Dionísio, who had been the Portuguese BAP lead detachment
commander at Šiauliai from September to December 2014. "My team is fully
committed, working hard and investing all their knowledge, effort and
experience in order to produce a very successful mission the only way we know –
professionally and effectively."
Starting on May 5, Combined Air Operations
Centre Uedem, Germany, will control the Portuguese F-16 fighters and the
augmenting Royal Air Force Typhoon Eurofighter jets out of Ämari, Estonia, when
launched for BAP sorties. When required, the NATO jets will identify and
intercept aircraft in the Baltic airspace not flying in compliance with
international civilian aviation rules, potentially causing a risk to other air
traffic. Allied Air Command, with headquarters at Ramstein, Germany, oversees
NATO's peacetime BAP mission, ensuring the same standard of airspace security
across Allied airspace.
"NATO is committed to the defence of all
Allies, and we will continue to safeguard the airspace of our Allies in the
Baltic region," said Brigadier General Matos Branco Director Air Operations
Centre, CAOC Torrejon representing AIRCOM and NATO at the ceremony. "The
contribution of Spain, and now Portugal, to this important BAP mission shows Allied
security and safety is comprehensive and indivisible."
NATO forces train regularly to preserve
Allied credibility and to execute missionS like NATO Air Policing, which
safeguards Allied members' airspace. NATO's strength comes from the combined
effort, commitment and resolve of all members. Baltic Air Policing particularly
underlines this cooperation of Allies in pooling existing capabilities to ensure
secure and safe skies across the Baltic region for the Alliance.
The ceremony concluded with a twoship overflight
of a Spanish Eurofighter Typhoon and a Portuguese F-16 in a cloudless blue sky
over Šiauliai Air Base.
For pictures from the event, please check http://bit.ly/1NjRHeq