ÄMARI, Estonia – Belgian F-16s finish an eight-month deployment in support of NATO Air Policing and, subsequently, NATO enhanced Vigilance Activities in Estonia.
We look back on a very successful time safeguarding the skies in the Baltic Region
At the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, a detachment of Belgian F-16s was present in Estonia conducting enhanced Air Policing (eAP). In response to the changed security environment, NATO modified and extended their mission. The eAP role was taken over by France, whose Mirage 2000-5 fighters arrived in Estonia in April, and the Belgian detachment has since been executing the enhanced Vigilance Activities (eVA) mission. At the request of NATO, Belgian F-16s have carried out scheduled patrols in key areas of Baltic airspace; this duty ends on August 1.
During their combined deployment at Ämari Air Base since April 2022, Belgian F-16s and French Mirage 2000-5 flew several training mission alongside.
Photo courtesy Belgian Air Force.
A Belgian F-16 escorting a Russian military plane during an intercept mission off the Estonian coast. Photo courtesy Belgian Air Force.
The Belgian F-16s participated in international exercises, during exercise Ramstein Alloy they conducted aerial drills with Spanish, French and Czech fighter jets. Photo courtesy Belgian Air Force.
Towards the end of the deployment, the Belgian F-16s were joined by U.S. Navy F-18 Hornets for mission under NATO's enhanced Vigilance Activities. Photo courtesy Belgian Air Force.
"We look back on a very successful time safeguarding the skies in the Baltic Region," said Major (aviator) Nicolas Maes, Commander of the Belgian F-16 detachment at Ämari. "Success in two ways: for our pilots and support staff this has been a terrific experience in Allied interoperability, and the Belgian Air Force team has demonstrated their flexibility and professionalism in support of the Alliance," he added.
The Belgian eVA detachment consists of 72 people in 24 different positions. In order to operate four F-16s, the expertise of 45 technicians is needed on site. Since the beginning of the eVA mission, Belgian F-16s have flown more than 340 sorties accumulating almost 850 flying hours in less than four months.
During their deployment, Belgian team took advantage of their presence in the Baltic States to participate in international exercises such as "Ramstein Alloy" and "BALTOPS". The aim of these exercises was to strengthen the cooperation and integration of all Alliance nations in order to provide a uniform response and ensure the integrity of NATO airspace.
These international exercises brought together more than 13 nations, including Sweden and Finland. Belgian fighter pilots, integrated in international patrols, demonstrated their interoperability through complex scenarios enabling Allied pilots to operate in uncharted airspace and therefore different from those in which they are used to working. These exchanges are beneficial in order to ensure a permanent improvement of capabilities as well as common tactics, techniques and procedures.
Since 2004, Belgium has contributed to the protection of NATO airspace through its participation in NATO's Baltic Air Policing Mission This enduring peacetime mission controlled by the Combined Air Operations Centre in Uedem, aims to preserve territorial integrity and deter airspace violations of the Baltic States' airspace. In 2014, following Russia's illegal invasion of Crimea, NATO Allies agreed on establishing the eAP mission aimed at deterring aggression and reassuring eastern Allies. NATO aircraft were deployed to provide QRA (Quick Reaction Alert) from the air bases at Šiauliai, Lithuania, Ämari, Estonia, or Malbork, Poland .
A QRA mission consists of having aircraft ready to take off within minutes to intercept aircraft that may threaten or violate the integrity of NATO airspace. Belgian fighter aircraft – in collaboration with Netherlands jets carry out this type of mission also at home to protect the BENELUX airspace.