Belgian Air Force takes over Baltic air policing duties in Lithuania

The Belgian Air Force on August 31 has assumed the lead role for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing from the Portuguese Air Force and replaced the augmenting Spanish Air Force at Šiauliai, Lithuania, the Allied Air Command Public Affairs Office announced.

Belgian Air Force takes over Baltic air policing duties in Lithuania 001 A BAF F-16AM taking off from Amari air base, in northwestern Estonia, in 2016
(Credit: Estonian Defence Forces)

The traditional handover of the key to the Baltic airspace took place once again at the Lithuanian Air Base on Friday, Aug 31, 2018. This time it was once more handed to the very nation that began the 14-year long success story of NATO’s mission securing the skies over the Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

In his speech, the Lithuanian Vice Minister of National Defence Mr. Vytautas Umbrasas, said "This ceremony each time reminds us that the Alliance is a truly effective and credible organization. This Air Policing mission is a brilliant example of solidarity among NATO members."

Representing General Tod Wolters, Commander Allied Air Command, his Chief of Staff, Italian Air Force Major General Claudio Gabellini, thanked Lithuania for being such a perfect host and the Portuguese and Spanish detachments for their great commitment.

"However, NATO’s presence in the Baltics is not only aimed at ensuring sovereign skies,” General Gabellini added, "an essential part in demonstrating NATO cohesion and commitment is training – and we embrace this additional challenge with a multi-domain understanding.” He referred to the support Allied jets in the Baltics provide to land elements to increase responsiveness and a true joint deterrence posture.

Welcoming the Belgian detachment, he underlined that NATO remains a strong and defensive Alliance safeguarding the skies over the Allies and constantly increasing manifold multi-domain options through steadfast commitment, training and cohesion.

On Thursday, August 30, the French Air Force detachment augmenting the mission out of Ämari handed over its role to the German Air Force. Until the end of the year, two Allied detachments will continue to maintain safety and security in NATO airspace over the Baltics.