September 3, 2013 (by Lieven Dewitte) - Belgium starts another rotation of the NATO Baltic air policing mission this week. Yesterday, four F-16 pilots and a team of technicians were flown to Siaulai air base in Lithuania to participate in the mission until January 2014.
BAF F-16AM #FA-101 from the 10th Wing is spotted taxiing in at Leeuwarden AFB on April 17th, 2012 during exercise Frisian Flag 2012. [Photo by Pablo Meyer]
This is the third time they take on the 24/7 task to police the airspace of the Baltic States. This time they are relieving four French Mirage F1CRs which have been conducting the Baltic air policing mission since the end of April.
Each Belgian pilot will fly an average of 15-20 hours a month for a total of 320 hours for the entire mission. The mission will also be used as an opportunity for training, cooperation with other NATO
members and to fine-tune international procedures.
In addition to the 50 Belgians in the detachment in Siauliai an additional two will be based in the Baltic air policing control and reporting centre in Karmelava, Lithuania.
The U.S. Air Force will take over the Baltic air policing mission in January 2014.
As Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are not in the capacity to provide their own air defense, NATO decided in 2004 that the allied nations would ensure the safety of the airspace, at least until 'in 2018.
The Belgian Air Force started the series of deployments on 30 March 2004. So far 14 members of the alliance have taken part in the mission on three-month rotation. Hungary and Italy
plan to carry out their mission for the first time in 2015.