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7 JAN 2016
Spain and Belgium have officially assumed responsibility for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission during two ceremonies, one at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania and the other at Ämari Air Base, Estonia.
At Šiauliai Air Base, the symbolic key to the Baltic airspace was handed from the outgoing Hungarian detachment commander to the incoming Spanish commander in the presence of representatives from military and civilian authorities from Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Hungary, and Spain.
Hungary successfully completed what was their first deployment under NATO’s standing mission ensuring safety of the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with their JAS-39 Gripen jets.
For the Lithuanian Vice Minister of National Defence, Mr. Marijus Velička the Baltic Air Policing Mission is a brilliant example of NATO credibility and solidarity. “This fortieth handover ceremony reminds us that the Alliance is a truly effective organization,” he said before he thanked the Hungarian detachment and extended a warm welcome to the incoming Spanish contingent.
For the next four months, the Spanish Air Force will have four of their Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Albacete Air Base deployed at Šiauliai accomplishing the BAP lead nation role.
The Spanish Chief of Defence, Admiral General Fernando García Sánchez, reiterated the importance of the mission. “The Spanish contribution to this mission for the third time proves our commitment to our NATO allies,” says Spanish Detachment Commander, Lt Col Juan Antonio Ballesta Miñarro.
Meanwhile at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, the augmenting nations’ responsibility was transferred from Germany to Belgium. The Defence Minister of Estonia, Mr Hannes Hanso who presided over the ceremony said, “the Baltic Air Policing mission sends a strong message about the continuing and lasting unity of the Allies.”
Germany, five times BAP lead nation, will now redeploy their Eurofighter Typhoon jets after augmenting the NATO mission for the second time out of Ämari. The task was handed over to four Belgian F-16 fighters from Kleine Brogel Air Base.
“For Belgium, this is the second deployment as an augmenting nation after taking an extended seven-month rotation from January to August 2015,” said the Belgian detachment Commander Captain Davy Blancquaert. Belgium was the first nation to provide fighters under the BAP rotational plan back in March 2004, commencing the success story of NATO BAP. Their airmen and aircraft also executed the mission in 2006 and 2013.
The Baltic Air Policing mission illustrates the Alliance’s ability to share and pool existing capabilities. 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. The Alliance has an appropriate and adequate capability to ensure a single standard of security within all Allies’ airspace.
L. J. De Rothschild