Allies Portugal and Romania took over NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission in a ceremony on Mar 31, 2023, the Alliance bids farewell to outgoing members Poland and France. The incoming Portuguese and Romanian F-16 fighter detachments are seamlessly continuing this important mission until the end of July when they will be handing the key to the Baltic Airspace to new incoming Allies. Since early December 2022, the Polish and French detachments secured the skies out of Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, conducting around 50 alert scrambles. The detachments maintained a posture of 24/7 vigilance and responsiveness under NATO Air Policing and at the same time flew combined and joint missions with regional Allies and Partners. This effort supported and enabled Alliance Deterrence and Defence activities assuring Allies along the eastern flank of strong commitment to collective security.
“Today we are in the worst and most dangerous military crisis in Europe since the second world war, but three things are clear: NATO’s flexibility and commitment to employ our assets to ensure collective deterrence and, if necessary, collective defence of NATO airspace and territory; NATO’s ability to plan, coordinate and execute our air policing mission as well as our vigilance activities along the eastern flank in a display of Allied readiness and assurance; and NATO’s determination to ensure collective defence not only but especially here in the Baltic Sea region and along the eastern flank. Šiauliai has been the symbol for NATO’s collective defence in the Baltic region for almost 20 years,” said General Raddatz. With this continued and tremendous support to the Air Policing mission our Air Forces contribute to the huge task of the Alliance, the Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic Area to protect the security and freedom of almost a billion citizens,” said Brigadier General Ralf Raddatz, Deputy Commander Combined Air Operations Centre Uedem.
For the Portuguese F-16s, this is the fifth deployment as lead nation for Baltic Air Policing after 2007, 2014, 2016 and 2018. Portuguese F-16s also joined the mission as augmenting nations in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Besides supporting the NATO mission in the Baltic region, Portugal also regularly contributes to Assurance Measures and enhanced Air Policing in the south underlining its commitment to collective defence and Alliance solidarity. For Romania, the present deployment is the second one after joining the Baltic Air Policing in 2007 as the 12th Ally on the mission. At the time, its MiG-21 jets patrolled the skies from August to November 2007. The present Romanian detachment led by Colonel Cosmin Vlad, is the first one with F-16 fighter jets. Romania bought these upgraded aircraft from Portugal and the two nations’ combined mission under NATO aegis is a continuation of their consistent cooperation. Since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO, Baltic Air Policing at Šiauliai has sent a strong signal that NATO remains united from east to west and north to south and ready to deter.
The Baltic air-policing mission is a NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace above the three Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Air policing is a purely defensive mission. 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. This structure of weapon systems, control centres and procedures is referred to as the NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS). NATINADS has been and remains one cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion. The responsible Allied Air Headquarters are at Izmir, Turkey and Ramstein, Germany.