Representatives from NATO, host nation Lithuania, outgoing nation Italy and incoming nation Spain, attended a brief ceremony at the main operating base for the Baltic Air Policing mission in Šiauliai, Lithuania.
After 60 years of NATO Allies collectively safeguarding their airspace in the form of NATO Air Policing, this collective security mission is more relevant than ever.
"Welcome to the Spanish Air Force Eurofighters from Albacete Air Base," said Major General Claudio Gabellini, Commander, Deployable Air Operations Centre, Poggio Renatico, Italy, who represented the Alliance during the event. "Spain has been a three-time lead nation in 2006, 2016 and 2020 and they have augmented Baltic Air Policing at Ämari four times. Spanish Air Force Eurofighters and F-18s have become regular guests in the region demonstrating Spain's commitment to the Alliance," he added.
A 130-strong team of Spanish airmen and women will operate a total of seven Eurofighter Typhoon fighter aircraft. NATO's Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany, together with the Baltic Control and Reporting Centres at Karmelava, Lithuania, Lievlarde, Latvia, and Tallinn, Estonia, will be in charge of controlling the sorties of the Spanish fighters patrolling the Baltic airspace.
At the same time, NATO and Lithuania bade farewell to Italy, who finished a successful eight months' deployment as Air Policing lead nation. Since September 1, the Italian
Eurofighters flew almost 40 intercepts meeting Russian military aircraft in international airspace flying close to NATO borders; they also conducted numerous training sorties to further enhance pilot skills and support Allied joint training events and exercises.
"As a NATO representative, I am grateful to the Italian detachment under Colonel Donati for their great mission accomplishment here leading the Alliance's collective efforts to safeguard the Baltic airspace," said Major General Gabellini. "And of course, as an Italian officer, I am proud of the strong commitment Italy and our Air Force has shown to the Alliance," he added.
Italy is not leaving the Baltic region, as their Air Force continues support and commitment to the Alliance with F-35 fighter aircraft that will for the first time enhance Baltic Air Policing at Ämari, Estonia.
The success of this formidable system of collective security depends on professional contributions like that of Lithuania and its Air Force.
Since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance, NATO Allies have taken turns deploying an effective Air Policing capability to the Baltic Sea region. The collective mission showcases Alliance vigilance and cohesion; it is a strong sign of NATO's readiness to preserve security and deter aggression keeping Allied populations safe.
The ceremony took place in compliance with COVID-19 precautions. The 24/7 collective Allied mission continues and all involved parties apply strict rules preventing the spread of the pandemic.