Polish F-16s take over command of Baltic Air Policing mission in Lithuania
The Polish Air Force has taken over from Hungary the command of the Nato Baltic Air Policing mission based in Siauliai, Lithuania.
Poland's 150-strong Orlik 11 group will now guard the skies over the Baltic Sea with its four F-16s until March 2023 for a regular four-months tour of duty. They will be supported by France, which will contribute four Rafale fighters.
"Nato's air defence is a key issue today," said Lithuanian Deputy Defence Minister Vilius Semeska during the handover ceremony on Thursday.
He added that "(at the Madrid summit- PAP) Nato countries agreed to strengthen deterrence and defence capabilities, including in the area of air defence."
According to Semeska, "air defence capabilities should play a greater role in ensuring the security of the Baltic skies."
Orlik-11 had already been operating in a support role since October 1.
"The geopolitical situation dictated that, as Nato, we had to increase the number of aircraft and the presence of the armed forces in the Baltic states," said Lt. Col. Michal Kras, Orlik 11's commander, during a recent visit by Polish reporters to Siauliai.
Nato countries are supporting Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, which lack warplanes capable of patrolling their airspace. The mission is currently in its 61st deployment, with Poland contributing its Orlik contingent for the 11th time.
Baltic Air Policing aircraft are often used to identify Russian aircraft flying to and from Russia's Kaliningrad enclave. According to Nato, Russian planes often approach alliance airspace without communicating to air-traffic control or submitting a flight plan, and with their localisation and identification transponders switched off.
The mission is controlled by Nato's regional multinational air force command in Uedem, Germany