The Polish Armed Forces are taking over the command of the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states on January 3 as Lithuania is entering its 15th year of NATO membership. After four months of guarding the Baltic skies, the Belgian Air Force detachment will hand over the mission to a Polish Air Force detachment with four F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft during a ceremony at the Lithuanian Air Force Air Base in Šiauliai. The German Air Force will provide the augmentation to this rotation of five Eurofighter Typhoons to be flown from Estonia.
Polish pilots landed their F-16s in Šiauliai on December 29. It is the 8th time the Polish Air Force is deploying rotation of the NATO Ari Policing Mission in the Baltic states. Poland’s first contribution flew the Baltic skies in 2005 with MiG-29 Fulcum fighter aircraft, further rotations used F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets.
Poland, one of the most active participants of the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states, is planned to send another air policing detachment in 2020.
Belgium was the first NATO ally to send its F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft to guard the Baltic skies on 29 March 2004 thus beginning the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission. Since then the Air Component of the Kingdom of Belgium has deployed eight rotations so far.
The hand over – take over ceremony of the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission detachments is expected to be attended by Minister of National Defence Raimundas Karoblis, Commander of the Allied Air Command General Tod Wolters, other representatives of the Ministry of National Defence and the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
NATO has been conducting the Air Policing Mission in the allied countries that do not have their own fighter aircraft since 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia became members of NATO. Over this time, 17 allies have already been protecting the Baltic airspace which is done 24/7.