SIAULIAI, Lithuania --- One example of Allies accomplishing the mission can be seen at Siauliai, Lithuania, where since September 2019, a Belgian Air Force F-16 detachment has been deployed to safeguard the Baltic Air Space – and continue to do so in times of COVID19.
Allied missions and operations – such as the Baltic Air Policing mission – continue under the corona virus – though with pertinent preventative measures to protect the staff and ensure mission execution and accomplishment.
Since early September 2019, a 60-strong Belgian Air Force detachment and F-16 fighter aircraft has been deployed at Siauliai Air Base leading NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. They are on 24/7 standby to safeguard the airspace in the Baltic region by launching their fighter jets within minutes when deemed necessary by NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre at Uedem, Germany.
On the Baltic Sea shores such events usually involve Russian Federation Air Force planes flying over international waters from and to the Russian Kaliningrad exclave. These flights are of interest to the Alliance and often not in compliance with international aviation rules. Therefore, they trigger a NATO response.
Belgian detachment has conducted more than 25 such interceptions professionally escorting 40 Russian planes on their flight along NATO borders. In total the pilots, ground crew, maintainers and controllers as well as support staff have facilitated 200 missions – both for training and in case of real alerts.
Meanwhile the Belgian detachment has enforced a strict quarantine to prevent COVID19 infections. “We are staying in our hotel rooms and only leave the hotel to go to work,” said Wendy, the detachment’s communications officer. “We drive directly up to our respective work areas and here, too, we strictly keep our distance; and still – our operations continue,” she added.
Last week alone the detachment’s F-16 had to launch on three consecutive days to respond to Russian aircraft underlining NATO’s constant vigilance and the tactical readiness.
“The best way to protect us from infection is to avoid any contact with the outside world,” said Sam, the detachment commander. “We have one colleague who does our shopping and complies with all restrictions in effect. Actually, we already enforced these measures before Belgium declared the lock-down,” he added. “All planned personnel replacements were put on hold and I am proud to say that my staff are so flexible that we are able to continue accomplishing our important NATO mission right to the end,” he said.