Italian Air Force F-35 Fighters Execute Trailblazer Deployment in Baltic Air Policing
Italian Air Force F-35 Fighters Execute Trailblazer Deployment in Baltic Air Policing

Italian Air Force Passes Baltic Air Policing Responsibility at Ämari to Belgian Air Force

Belgians enduring commitment to NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission is demonstrated by the deployment of the F-16 fighter aircraft to take over the mission from Italy. The hand over take over ceremony was conducted on December, 1 2021 with the previous and incoming detachments. For the fourth time this year, the task of augmenting NATO’s BAP mission was handed over at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. In a ceremony attended by senior civilian and military guests the Italian Air Force passed the BAP mission to the Belgian Air Force. The Belgian Air Force took lead at Ämari Air Base. The team has been a six-time lead nation since then and they have augmented Baltic Air Policing at Ämari twice. With their four F-16s at Ämari Air Base, Belgium will again support the Baltic Air Policing Mission. Both the 10th and 2nd Tactical Wings of the Belgian Air Force will be covering this period of support with a team of 60 people.

The out going Italian and incoming Belgian detachments stand in formation during their hand over take over ceremony. Photo courtesy of Estonian Air Force.

“It goes without saying that your mission is essential for the control and defence of Estonia’s air space, but also to NATO’s air space integrity. We live in difficult times. There is an ongoing dangerous political gamble at NATO’s borders, not far from here. It is clear that this is a hybrid attack where human beings are weaponized against our Allies and neighbours, “said Estonian Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Defence Mr. Kusti Salm.

“I am very proud and touched to be here in Ämari today. I remember fondly 2004 when I was NATO’s first Baltic Air Policing Detachment Commander at Šiauliai Air Base in neighbouring Lithuania. I am impressed to see how Air Policing in the three Baltic States has evolved and I applaud the constant expansion of NATO’s capabilities,” said Major General Harold van Pee, Commander of the Combined Air Operations Centre Uedem.

Col Fabio De Luca receives a gift from the Estonian armed forces for his service in Air Policing. Photo courtesy of Estonian Air Force

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 the 1970s, NATO has established a comprehensive system of air surveillance and airspace management means, as well as Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) assets for intercepts (QRA(I)) provided by its member nations. By means of radar sites, remote data transmission, Control and Reporting Centres (CRCs) and Combined Air Operations Centres (CAOCs) the Alliance ensures constant surveillance and control of its assigned airspace 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. NATO exploits these facilities to react within seconds to air traffic incidents in the Allies’ airspace.

Two Italian Air Force F-35 outside their shelter at Ämari Air Base; for the first time fifth generation fighter aircraft patrolled the skies above the Baltic Allies Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania for NATO. Photo courtesy of Italian Air Force