March 27, 2004 (by Bjorn Claes) - As soon as next week, Belgian F-16s are most likely due to set course to the three Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) that are becoming full NATO members next Monday. The ultimate decision will be taken on Monday by Belgian Defence Secretary A. Flahaut.
The Baltic countries don't have dedicated air defences and posed a request to the alliance to provide air cover over their territories.
The plan calls for a permanent NATO
detachment based in Lithuania, with reserve fields located in the other two countries. The detachment will consist out of 4 F-16s and associated personel. All four EPAF
countries will provide assets, with Belgium
, The Netherlands
providing F-16s and Norway
providing a mobile air-traffic control center. The F-16 units will rotate on a 3-month basis. After some negotiations within NATO it was decided that Belgium would step in for the first 3-month period, starting as soon as March 31st.
Further details on this deployment will probably be made by NATO and the Belgian Defence department in the course of next week.
Today, right after Defence Secretary Flahaut had given his permission for the go-ahead of this mission, four F-16s departed from Kleine-Brogel AB. One pair at 14:30 pm and the other pair at 15:30 pm. These F-16s of 349 squadron will start their air patrols on April 1st from Siauliai AB, situated in the north of Lithuania. After 6 weeks a rotation will take place and 349 squadron will return to Kleine-Brogel in favor for 350 squadron. The assignment will end on June 30th and either Denmark or The Netherlands will take over from the Belgian Air Component at that time.