The United States are handing over the lead in NATO's Baltic air policing mission to Denmark in two days, concluding a four-month stay in Lithuania that saw U.S. fighters scramble some 30 times to identify Russian aircraft flying near NATO airspace, an U.S. official said on Friday.
The U.S. fighter jets scrambled about 30 times to identify aircraft that did not follow international flight regulations and approached the Baltic airspace. All aircraft intercepted were from Russia, U.S. Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa spokeswoman Capt. Kay Nissen said.
According to Nissen, that number was comparable to past air policing rotations. However, there was increased activity in the beginning of the rotation because of the Russian and Belarusian military exercise Zapad at the time, Nissen was quoted by the Stars and Stripes online portal as saying.
Nissen added that all intercepts were "safe and standard." This means that they were in accordance with International Civil Aviation Organization guidelines.
About 140 airmen and seven F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath deployed to the Siauliai air base in Lithuania. Nissen said that in November the squadron scaled back to four deployed aircraft.
With the mission winding down, the United States Air Forces in Europe - Air Forces Africa on Friday also released video footage of two intercepts that occurred close to the Baltic airspace, one on November 23 and the other on December 13.
The U.S. on Monday will hand over the rotation to Denmark, whose four F-16 fighter jets are already in Lithuania. Belgium, which guards the Baltic airspace from the Amari air base in Estonia, on Wednesday will hand over the task to Italy, which will send four Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets to Estonia.