ŠIAULIAI, Lithuania – On 5 January 2017, NATO's Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission entered its 43rd rotation since its beginning in 2004. After four months of leading the mission, France handed over the symbolic key to the Baltic Airspace to the Netherlands at the traditional ceremony held at Šiauliai Air Base. The Royal Netherlands Air Force will now safeguard the skies over the three Baltic NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia until the end of April 2017 for a regular term of four months. The ceremony was once again attended by high ranking civilian, military and political guests – amongst them the Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania, Mr. Raimundas Karoblis.
The Netherlands led the mission once before in 2005. In 2014 they augmented the mission out of Malbork Air Base in Poland, which was a temporary third BAP air base to enforce the mission after Russia's illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula.
"It's good to be back in Šiauliai after 12 years to perform the Air Policing once again to protect the Baltic States," said Major Gert, Commander of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Detachment. "A task we gladly perform for the next four months to demonstrate NATO unity," he added.
With their rotation completed, the French Air Force has now supported NATO's BAP mission five times, three of which as augmenting nation operating out of Ämari, Estonia and two as lead nation operating out of Šiauliai.
Lieutenant Colonel Isaak Diakité, Commander of the French Air Force Detachment, addressed his hosts for the final time, stating: "We have built some very special bounds between France and Lithuania during these four months and I hope it will continue in the future. Thank you for your support and your friendship."
Mr. Raimundas Karoblis, Minister of National Defence of the Republic of Lithuania, thanked the French Air Force for their commitment and solidarity. "It is and will be very much appreciated by the people of Lithuania and the entire Baltic region. Please be assured that Lithuania will equally stand by your side in the time of need." he said to the French Airmen. Welcoming the Dutch detachment, he said: "We highly appreciate your valuable contribution to the security and integrity of the whole NATO airspace."
The detachment of the Royal Netherlands Air Force will be augmented by a detachment of the German Air Force, operating out of Ämari, Estonia. The German detachment has already been engaged in NATO's BAP mission for the past for month but will remain in place for a second four-month term until April 2017.
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.
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.
Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office
More pictures in Flickr