ŠIAULIAI, Lithuania – The lead in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission was taken over by the Polish Air Force on Tuesday, May 2nd 2017. A detachment of four F-16 jets, pilots and staff will be responsible to safeguard the Baltic airspace for four months until September. The detachment of the Royal Netherlands Air Force that had been leading the mission since the beginning of the year, was thanked and bid farewell during the traditional ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base.
"Let me tell you, you have done outstanding - as ambassadors of your country and as ambassadors of NATO" said Brigadiergeneral Roberto Di Marco, Deputy Commander of NATO's Deployable Air Command and Control Centre to the Dutch Airmen. The Netherlands have now completed their third contribution to the mission. They had once before patrolled the Baltic skies in 2005 and had augmented the mission out of Marlbork, Poland when the Baltic Air Policing capabilities were temporarily stepped up in response to the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014.
The Polish Air Force is now supporting NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission for the seventh time. However, the current rotation is a premier for Poland. The previous six times Polish pilots had flown MiG-29 fighter jets when launching to identify or intercept aircraft in Baltic airspace. May to September 2017 marks the first time ever Poland is deploying their F-16 fighter jets. Their detachment will be augmented by a second detachment operating out of Amari, Estonia. After a double term of eight months since September 2016, the German Air Force is going to hand over to a detachment from Spain on May 3.
NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission has been in place since 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined NATO. Originally only operating out of Šiauliai, Lithuania, the mission has been augmented by a second detachment based in Estonia upon agreement of the Wales summit in 2014. Baltic Air Policing is part of a NATO wide 24/7 routine peacetime mission to ensure safety, security and integrity of all Alliance members' airspace. For member countries that don't have their own Air Policing assets, such as the three Baltic States, other NATO members' Airforces regularly provide their fighter jets in support. Commanded and Controlled by one of NATO's Combined Air Operation Centres, Air Policing jets launch whenever aircraft behave in an unusual, unsafe or unidentified manner.
Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office