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Norwegian F-16s fly over the Baltic States alongside Italian Eurofighter Typhoons. NATO Photo by Jake Tupman.
21 MAY 2015
Norway is currently leading NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission in the Baltic States. Operating four F-16 fighters out of Šiauliai, Lithuania, Norway’s forces are augmented by four Italian Eurofighters at the same airbase, as well as four British Typhoons based in Ämari, Estonia and four Belgian F-16s stationed in Malbork, Poland. Norway has been designated lead nation from May through August 2015, repeating a role it held during periods in 2004/2005 and 2008.
Stressing the importance of NATO solidarity, Lieutenant Colonel Ivar Magne Stene, Commander of the Norwegian Air Force detachment, said “it’s important to stand together and offer our capabilities to the 3 Baltic States.” Noting that his pilots have already conducted scrambles in response to Russian air activity, he added “it is important that we help [the Baltics] out and show unity in the Alliance.”
Italian detachment commander Colonel Vito Cracas explained the mission as follows: “when an unknown aircraft approaches NATO airspace, we launch fighter jets to intercept, identify and escort the aircraft.” He added, “this is a standard procedure and such a sequence of events is not uncommon.”
While NATO jets routinely conduct scrambles, the Alliance has seen a steady increase in Russian military aircraft activity since 2012. In the first 3 months of 2015, NATO observed a moderate increase in Russian military flight activity over the same period in 2014.
Throughout 2014, NATO aircraft conducted over 150 scrambles to intercept Russian military aircraft in the Baltic region, approximately four times as many as in 2013.
NATO’s Baltic members, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, do not have the means necessary to provide air policing of their own territory. Since the Baltic nations joined NATO in 2004, other Allies have taken turns protecting the integrity of their sovereign airspace, enhancing their collective security.
L. J. De Rothschild