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Polish Air Force F-16 Fighter Jets Launch Under NATO Baltic Air Policing in Estonia

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Polish Air Force F-16 Fighter Jets Launch Under NATO Baltic Air Policing in Estonia

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Polish Air Force F-16 Fighter Jets Launch Under NATO Baltic Air Policing in Estonia
Polish Air Force F-16 Fighter Jets Launch Under NATO Baltic Air Policing in Estonia

On December 13, the Polish F-16s conducted their first alert scramble and intercepted a Russian Il-18V. The military plane flew from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad above the Baltic Sea near NATO airspace. The mission has been a routine interception under NATO Air Policing. 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. During the week December 11 to 16, the Polish jets – and the other two NATO detachments from Belgium and France – deployed in the region flew similar Air Policing missions on five occasions.

These collective efforts underline NATO’s readiness posture and vigilance in the region. Even at a time when people are at home with their families for the holidays at the end of the year, Allies are continuing to keep the watch, as they stand together in solidarity and cohesion committed to deterrence and defence. The Polish Air Force has been supporting NATO’s most recent Air Policing rotation over the territory of the Baltic Allies. Four of their F-16s deployed to Ämari at the end of November and will be safeguarding the skies above the Baltic Sea region together with Belgian F-16s and French Mirage 2000-5 stationed at Šiauliai in Lithuania.

The first Polish intercept occurred on December 13; in a routine intercept, the F-16s  intercepted a Russian Il-18V flying above the Baltic Sea near NATO airspace. Photo by Polish Air Force.
The first Polish intercept occurred on December 13; in a routine intercept, the F-16s intercepted a Russian Il-18V flying above the Baltic Sea near NATO airspace. (Photo by Polish Air Force)

Poland is an active contributor the enduring Allied mission in the skies in the region and supports NATO’s collective defence posture by providing Malbork and ?ask Air Bases for Allied fighter deployments. NATO has been protecting the Baltic skies since 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance. NATO Air Policing is a peacetime mission that aims to preserve the security of Alliance airspace. It is a collective task and involves the continuous presence – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – of fighter aircraft and crews, which are ready to react quickly to possible airspace violations.

Poland purchased 48 F-16C/D-52+ aircraft. The aircraft were delivered from 2006 under the PEACE SKY program. The F-16, along with 32 Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29 fighters and 48 Sukhoi Su-22 ground attack aircraft, are the main offensive strike force for Polish Air Force. There have also been delays in the offset program, the United States has not made all the promised investments in Poland that were part of the deal. Offset deals in 2011 reached $6 billion out of $6.028 billion planned ($9.8 billion at time when offer was chosen), however only one-third of recognised offsets commitment were direct investments in Polish economy.

Polish Air Force F-16 Fighter Jets Launch Under NATO Baltic Air Policing in Estonia
A Polis Air Force F-16 leaving the hangar ready for a night flying mission at Ämari Air Base, Estonia. (Photo by Polish Air Force)

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