On 31 August, the Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16 detachment passed on the lead role in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission to the Hungarian Air Force. This is the first time Hungary, represented by Minister of Defence, H. E. Csaba Hende, assumes the task of ensuring safe skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania under NATO orders.
"This is the 39th time we have a standing Baltic Air Policing ceremony here in Šiauliai. And each time this ceremony reminds us that the Alliance is a truly effective organization,” said H.E. Juozas Olekas, Minister of National Defence of Lithuania. "I am confident that the Air Policing mission will remain a brilliant example of NATO’s credibility and solidarity among allies. This mission as well as other forms of NATO’s presence on land and at sea make the people of the Baltic States feel safer. Moreover, all these measures ensure deterrence and peace not only for the Baltic region, but also for the whole of NATO.”
The symbolic key to the Baltic airspace was handed over at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, in the presence of representatives from military and civilian authorities from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, Norway and Italy.
For the third time, Royal Norwegian Air Force jets have performed the peacetime mission of NATO Air Policing controlled by Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem and overseen by Allied Air Command (AIRCOM) at Ramstein, both in Germany. The rotation started in May this year.
"We accomplished our mission in a safe and successful way, and we are proud to be an active part of the Alliance,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Andersen, Commander of the Norwegian Detachment. "Our live air policing missions and our training sorties allowed us to gain valuable experience. The Baltic Air Policing mission shows that the Alliance is strong and skilled at managing air policing efficiently and safely. We would like to thank Lithuania and Italy for their great support during our mission.
Norway was augmented by the Italian Air Force whose Eurofighter Typhoon jets accomplished two rotations in a row at Šiauliai. The United Kingdom augmented the mission with four Eurofighter Typhoon jets out of Ämari, Estonia and Belgium did so out of Malbork, Poland, where Belgian F-16s have been deployed since January this year. In total four Allies were scrambled by CAOC Uedem for roughly 200 training and real-life intercepts. In addition, the executed more than 650 in support of training activities furthering Allied capabilities and interoperability.
Leading the 39th rotation of BAP, Hungary is the 16th NATO Ally to assume this task in an expression of Alliance solidarity and cohesion. The four Hungarian JAS-39 Gripen fighters at Siaulia will be augmented by four German Air Force Eurofighter jets who assumed the task from the Royal Air Force at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. The 39th rotation will officially commence duties on 1 September through the end of this year.
"The Hungarian soldiers are determined, highly skilled and fully prepared to fulfill the Baltic Air Policing mission,” said Lieutenant-Colonel Tamás Fekete, commander of the Hungarian Detachment. "The goal of the Hungarian Detachment is to continue the excellent job of our allies, and to do our best to keep up the safe and peaceful environment for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania."
The Baltic Air Policing mission illustrates the Alliance’s ability to share and pool existing capabilities. It started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since.
"NATO is a strong Alliance which remains committed to collective defence and will continue to perform the peacetime mission of Air Policing,” Brigadier General Kevin A. Huyck, Deputy Chief of Staff Operations at HQ AIRCOM. "The Baltic Air Policing posture is continuously analysed and restructured to remain ready and responsive. When I look at these state-of-the-art supersonic fighters and the professional and experienced aircrew I am more than confident NATO Air Policing capabilities are up to the task.”
The Alliance takes its responsibility to ensure safety of its Allies’ 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.
Changes to the Baltic Air Policing Mission posture do not represent a change in the efficiency and effectiveness of that mission. The Alliance has an appropriate and adequate capability to ensure a single standard of security within all Allies’ airspace.
Find pictures of the event here