Belgian Air Component F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft took over Baltic Air Policing (BAP) duties from Hungarian Air Force JAS-39 fighter September 3 in the latest rotation of aircraft and crews by NATO allies. The Belgian Air Force, which back in 2004 was the first Ally to start NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission in the region, the lead nation for the last four months in 2019. The Baltic air-policing mission is a NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, the 24/7 task of policing the airspace of the Baltic States was conducted on a three-month rotation from Lithuania’s First Air Force Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport and starting 2014 at the Ämari Air Base, Estonia. Starting with the Turkish deployment, rotations changed to a four-month basis. Usual deployments consist of four fighter aircraft with between 50 and 100 support personnel. To ensure Air Policing performance is conducted in a safe and professional way, adequate training was and still is required, as NATO member nations deploy their assets to Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, on a rotational basis.
The Belgian Air Component (Luchtcomponent or Composante air) is the air arm of the Belgian Armed Forces, and until January 2002 it was officially known as the Belgian Air Force (Belgische Luchtmacht or Force aérienne belge). The Belgian military aviation was founded in 1909 and is one of the world’s oldest air services. Regarding the replacement of the aging F-16s there was some controversy within the Belgian government. On 25 October 2018, Belgium officially selected the offer for 34 F-35As to replace the current fleet of around 53 F-16s.