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Mar 24 2021

NATO Baltic Air Policing protects Allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

This article was originally published in the HQ JFC Brunssum's "Northern Star" magazine / December 2020

NATO Air Policing

NATO Air Policing is an enduring defensive mission. The principle of collective defence is at the very heart of NATO's founding treaty. It remains a unique and enduring principle that binds its members together, committing them to protect each other and setting a spirit of solidarity within the Alliance.

NATO Air Policing ensures the integrity of Allies' airspace in Europe and protects Alliance nations by maintaining a continuous 24/7 Air Policing within SACEUR's area of responsibility. It is neither in response to any specific threat nor directed against any nation.

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Joint planning is essential to conduct successful missions. An Estonian planner discussing an upcoming Close Air Support mission with German Eurofighter. 
Photo by Bundeswehr/Michael Scheller
In the Baltic States, NATO's Air Policing mission demonstrates the ability of the Alliance to work together and pool existing capabilities. Baltic Air Policing (BAP) is a specific, regional form of NATO's enduring Air Policing mission. BAP has been executed continuously since April 2004; so far, 17 NATO nations have participated in this mission. Like Air Policing in the rest of our European Allies' territory, BAP is conducted to protect the integrity of Allies' airspace and to promote air safety for all aircraft.

NATO provides equal protection to all its member countries. This is an important confidence-building measure to demonstrate Alliance solidarity and resolve not only to current members, but also to our partners and future potential members. NATO takes its responsibility to ensure the safety and integrity of its airspace very seriously - when an aircraft flies close to NATO's airspace without prior coordination or planning, both commercial and military air traffic could be placed in danger.

NATO Air Policing Structure

NATO's Air Policing mission involves the use of the Air Surveillance and Control System (ASACS), Air Command and Control (Air C2) and appropriate air assets, so called Quick Reaction Alert (Interceptor) or QRA(I) fast jets. Air Policing scrambles can respond to military or civilian aircraft that do not comply with international flight regulations and approach Allies' airspace. Often these aircraft fail to properly identify themselves, communicate with Air Traffic Control staffs or file flight plans. Scrambles conducted under the NATO Air Policing mission respond to such aircraft in order to safeguard NATO airspace and ensure the safety of all users of international or national airspace.

In Baltic Air Policing, NATO fighters are scrambled most frequently to meet Russian military aircraft flying in international airspace near our Baltic Allies. Scrambling QRA(I) aircraft ensures NATO remains ready to respond appropriately to developing situations and provides a continuous deterrence posture. The decision to scramble NATO fighters depends on the situation – both geographical and tactical – and is at the discretion of the Commander of Combined Air Operation Centre Uedem.

Since 2014, a second Allied fighter detachment has been continuously deployed to the Baltic region in support enhanced Air Policing (eAP). This mission is part of NATO's Assurance Measures that the Alliance implemented in 2014. It aims to demonstrate the collective resolve of Allies, reinforce the defensive nature of NATO and deter Russia from aggression or the threat of aggression against NATO Allies.

Support for enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroups

Besides the priority task of safeguarding our Baltic Allies' airspace, BAP deployed jets may be used to support eFP battlegroup training activities, within means and capabilities. Any request for such training is subject to approval by Allied Air Command and national endorsement. The detachments regularly fly their jets in support of training missions with the eFP battlegroups or regional ground forces. The pilots perform Close Air Support and Show of Force/ Show of Presence sorties when they work with Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs). This support enables realistic training for Allied readiness and currency in the JTAC domain.

Current 55th Rotation BAP/eAP Sending Nations

At present, the Italian Air Force leads NATO's BAP mission at Šiauliai, Lithuania, with a Eurofighter detachment, and the German Air Force is augmenting the mission with Eurofighters stationed at Ämari Air Base, Estonia, within the framework of enhanced Air Policing.

The Italian Air Force is leading the 55th BAP mission with a Eurofighter detachment in Šiauliai Air Base. This is the fourth time Italy has deployed fighter aircraft for the Baltic mission. In 2015 and 2020 Italy was the BAP lead nation in Šiauliai, and in 2015 (still in Šiauliai) and 2018 (in Ämari) it was the augmenting nation under eAP. The deployed Italian Task Force Air is commanded by Colonel Daniele DONATI. Normally based at Grosseto, 4th Wing is the "lead Wing" of the 55th Block BAP detachment, with Eurofighters and personnel coming also from the 36th Wing based in Gioia del Colle, from the 37th Wing based in Trapani and the 51th based in Istrana . Overall, the detachment numbers more than 120 personnel.

The German Air Force has been deployed as the eAP nation with a Eurofighter detachment stationed at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. This is the twelfth German NATO-deployment to the BAP mission. German Wings have deployed five times as lead nation in 2005, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2012, and seven as augmenting nation at Ämari - once a year since 2014. The current deployment is led by detachment commander, Lieutenant Colonel Sören Richter. The Eurofighter aircraft are deployed from Tactical Air Wing 74 at Neuburg Air Base; the detachment staff numbers approximately 180 personnel and consists of soldiers from the Wing, as well as other units from the German Air Force and Joint Support Service.

Under the enhanced Air Policing deployment the German Air Force also stationed its Deployable Control and Reporting Centre (DCRC) at Šiauliai Air Base. In October and November the unit was connected to the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS); thereby, enhancing the Alliance's air surveillance capabilities above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

BAP/eAP Host Nations

Lithuania has hosted a NATO fighter detachment consecutively at Šiauliai Air Base since March 2004, when the BAP mission began with the three Baltic States' joining the Alliance. In 2014 and 2015, and since 2018, the base has hosted two detachments simultaneously most of the time.

Estonia has hosted NATO fighter detachments consecutively at Ämari Air Base since April 2014, when NATO introduced its Assurance Measures and enhanced Air Policing following the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea.

Additionally, from April 2014 to September 2015, Poland hosted NATO fighter detachments at Malbork Air Base under NATO's enhanced Air Policing arrangements. In the spring of 2019, the base received a Portuguese fighter detachment for training and exercise activities under the Assurance Measures banner. In the fall of 2019 and 2020, the Portuguese Air Force supported training and exercise activities under NATO's Assurance Measures with two F-16 fighter deployments.

COVID-19 or not, the Allied mission continues

NATO's main task during the pandemic is to make sure the health crisis does not become a security crisis. In the past nine months NATO has remained ready, vigilant and prepared to respond to any threat. Securing the skies over our Baltic Allies is the top priority for the BAP mission; our personnel, the pilots and ground crews as well as our host nation colleagues are key enablers for mission success. Their health and safety is thus of high concern for us. The detachments are COVID-aware and have implemented appropriate measures to avoid spreading this virus. NATO military medical staff remain vigilant and are in close coordination with the Host Nation authorities. They are constantly monitoring any potential impact for NATO troops deployed on operations to ensure this critical mission continues.

Why is Baltic Air Policing conducted?

The key message NATO sends with Air Policing is that we are able, willing and committed to conduct enduring, professional Air Policing and provide security to our Allies continuously and seamlessly. In the Baltic region, NATO's BAP posture demonstrates the collective resolve of Allies and the defensive nature of the Alliance. The mission underscores that NATO takes collective defence in support of our Baltic Allies very seriously. NATO and Allied Air Command, via the Combined Air Operation Centre at Uedem, remain absolutely committed to providing an effective and efficient Air Policing capability to the Baltic region.

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The Italian Air Force is leading the 55th rotation of NATO's Baltic Air Policing with its Eurofighters deployed at Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuana. Photo courtesy Italian Air Force.
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A German Air Force Eurofighter conducting an Alert Scramble on 2 Oct 2020 incepting a Russian military transport aircraft. 
Photo courtesy Bundeswehr.
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The German Air Force is augmenting the current rotation with its Eurofighter aircraft flying out of Ämari Air Base, Estonia, under NATO's enhanced Air Policing. Photo courtesy Bundeswehr.

Story by Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office

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