As 2014 drew to a close on 31 December, so did the 36th rotation of the NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. In a ceremony held at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, attended by civilian and military representatives from Host Nations and Contributing Nations, the Portuguese Air Force handed over the key to the Baltic airspace to the Italian Air Force. Italy is the lead nation of the incoming 37th rotation.
Lieutenant-Colonel David Pletz, Commander of the Canadian Air Task Force Lithuania; and Lieutenant-Colonel Francisco Dionísio, Portuguese Air Force Detachment Commander, hand-over the NATO Baltic Air Policing symbolic key to the Italian and Polish Detachment Commanders during the NATO Baltic Air Policing Block 36 handover ceremony at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania on December31, 2014.
"For a decade, NATO’s Baltic Air Policing Mission has been more than security assurance to the Baltic States,” said Colonel Audronis Navickas, Lithuanian Air Force Commander. "This collective effort is a good example demonstrating Alliance solidarity and commitment to provide the same standards of security to all its members.”
Four Portuguese F-16 aircraft, augmented by four Canadian CF-188 fighters, policed the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since September. Together with the two other augmenting Allies – Germany with Eurofighter aircraft out of Ämari Air Base, Estonia, and the Netherlands with F-16 jets out of Malbork, Poland – the NATO fighters conducted about 70 intercepts over the Baltic Sea.
"We achieved a clear ‘mission accomplished’ here at Šiauliai,” says the Portuguese Detachment Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco "Seeker” Dionisio. "More than 300 flight hours safely performed in over 150 sorties plus an added value from training performed with local and deployed forces show NATO’s greatest strength – joint air operations in a safe and efficient way.”
From 1 January on, Italy is at the helm of Baltic Air Policing with four Eurofighter jets. This is the first time Italy takes part in this NATO mission that started in 2004 when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO.
"First of all I want to thank the Lithuanian Air Force for the warm welcome,” says the Italian Detachment Commander, Colonel Marco Bertoli. "The Baltic Air Policing mission is very important for my air force. Italy is now the first Ally to participate in all of NATO’s Interim Air Policing activities conducted over Albania, Slovenia and Iceland and – of course – over the three Baltic States”.
On 5 January, Polish MiG-29 fighter aircraft will arrive once again at Šiauliai to augment the NATO mission that lasts until end of April. The Polish Air Force was the lead nation for the fifth time from May to September 2014.
In May 2014, NATO increased the number of Allied fighter aircraft conducting Baltic Air Policing in line with its assurance measures.
To complete the 37th rotation, Spanish Eurofighters arrived at Ämari, Estonia on 30 December to take over from the German Eurofighters, and Belgian F-16s will relieve the Dutch F-16s at Malbork, Poland in January.
NATO Air Policing has been, and remains, a cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion. Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task. The Alliance takes its responsibility to ensure safety of its airspace very seriously – when an aircraft flies close to or enters NATO members’ airspace without prior coordination or planning, both commercial and military air traffic could be placed in danger. NATO jets routinely identify, intercept, and escort such planes as a precautionary measure.