Portugal assumes lead over Baltic Air Policing at Šiauliai

The Spanish Air Force detachment handed over the lead for NATO Baltic Air Policing to the Portuguese Air Force today. Photo by Cynthia Vernat, HQ AIRCOM PAO
May 4, 2016

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 Alliance.

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 Lithuania.”

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

 

 

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