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Belgium F-16s to police Baltic airspace

December 1, 2006 (by Stefaan Vanhastel) - The Belgian Air Force will deploy 4 F-16 MLU aircraft to Zokniai Air Base in Lithuania, where they will be used to protect the airspace of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

A Turkish F-16C block 40 from 162 Filo is spotted head-on during its air policing duties at Siauliai AB in Lithuania in early 2006. [Photo by Skylord]

The deployment will last from December 1st, 2006 to March 31st, 2007, and is the second Baltic deployment for Belgian F-16s. The Belgian F-16 fighters will replace four Spanish Mirage F-1M aircraft that have been patrolling the air space of the Baltic States for the last four months.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer recently assured the three countries that the rotating air-policing mission would continue after 2007, when the current program is set to end.

The three countries had asked for an extension of the mission in order to focus on modernizing land forces, some of which are taking part in peacekeeping operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The armed forces of the three Baltic republics do not have any fighter aircraft, and have relied on their NATO allies for protection since they joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 2004. Belgium was the first country to police the Baltic airspace, from April to June 2004.

A first detachment of the Belgian Air Force left for Zokniai AB near Siauliai on Sunday, November 26th, as part of the operation "Air Policing Quick Reaction Alert Baltic States". The full detachment will consist of 60 personnel, drawn from the 2nd Wing at Florennes AB, the 10th Wing at Kleine Brogel AB, as well as medical and army troops.

Besides patrolling the airspace, the detachment will also train tactical air traffic controllers in Kaunas, in order to prepare them for their NATO certification.

Additional images:

BAF Air Policing Baltic States patch [Michael Weinberger Collection]

Air Policing Baltic States patch from the Belgian Air Force. [ collection]