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Turkish Air Force F-16s start NATO patrol of Baltic Skies

March 31, 2006 (by Houston) - Four Turkish F-16s took over NATO patrol missions of the Baltic air space on March 31. Turkey will be the first NATO country to patrol Baltic air space for four months as opposed to three.

TuAF F-16C block 40 #89-0039 from 162 Filo is coming for landing after a training sortie. [Photo by Emin Fýndýklý]

"It was decided that longer missions will save time which we spend on preparations and becoming acquainted with the mission’s territory," Arturas Leita, commander of the Lithuanian air force, told AFP.

"Missions lasting four months will continue until the end of 2007," he added.

Turkey will also be the first to have woman pilot flying the NATO patrols, the Turkish embassy in Lithuania said.

The 80-member unit, with four F-16 fighter jets deployed to Zokniai air base, takes over from a Polish contingent that has guarded Baltic airspace since January.

Other NATO members have taken turns patrolling Baltic air space since March 2004, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the military alliance, because the three countries, which emerged from Soviet rule 15 years ago, do not have the aircraft to police their skies themselves.

Belgian, British, Danish, German, Norwegian and U.S. contingents have served in the region. Belgium is scheduled to take over the mission from Turkey in August.