September 10, 2008 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The U.S. Air Force will patrol the airspace over the Baltic states from October, the Latvian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday.
23 EFS Baltic Air Policing, Oct 05 - Jan 06 [Asif Shamim Collection]
Four F-15s and about 130 airmen from the 493rd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath, Britain, deploy to Siauliai, Lithuania, where, as of Oct. 1, they are now protecting the air sovereignty of NATO
members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
The F-15s will replace the current German planes on a rotation basis.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia reached an agreement with NATO on the lease of fighters to patrol their airspace in 2004. Patrols have since been conducted by Belgian, Spanish, Norwegian
, German and Danish aircraft.
'Wild Weasels' from the 22nd and 23rd Fighter Squadrons at Spangdahlem Air Base provided the 24-hour air policing coverage over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia back in 2005.
The patrols cost the Latvian taxpayers $4 million a year.
The Baltic States have virtually no fighter planes. They said earlier that they would be unable to acquire their own fighter planes before 2018.
The Baltic skies are presently secured by the so-called NATO air police, which in addition to fighter planes also provide air defense systems and manpower.