Spain will complete its first month leading the current rotation of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission this week, after taking over on the 1st of May. Based at Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania, the Spanish Air Force is helping to protect the airspace of NATO’s Baltic Allies Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania until the end of August. Spain’s deployment is supplemented by detachments of UK jets at Siauliai, as well as French jets based at Amari Airbase in Estonia.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a test for us all. By setting the right procedures and working together with our Allied colleagues we have been able to contain the COVID-19 spread at this base and created the basis for successful mission accomplishment,” said Lieutenant Colonel Antanas Matutis, commander of the Šiauliai Airbase.
“My country will be actively supporting the NATO mission almost three and half thousand kilometers away from Zaragoza, home to our Wing back in Spain, while at the same time ensuring Air Policing at home,” said Spanish detachment commander Lieutenant Colonel Jesús Gutiérrez Gallego. “In spite of the current situation affecting all NATO countries, we are here to lead this mission as a proof of the Spanish solidarity and commitment to NATO and the Baltic countries,” he said.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing deployment is a defensive mission that sees allies sending planes to patrol the airspace of the three Baltic states, who do not have fighter jets of their own. The Air Policing programme keeps fighter jets on alert 24/7 and ready to scramble in case of suspicious air activity close to the Alliance’s borders. NATO aircraft routinely intercept Russian military aircraft near the Baltic states which frequently fail to adhere to international air safety norms. In the first quarter of 2020, Allied jets with NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission scrambled around 25 times to safeguard Allied airspace.
The Lithuanian Air Force Base in Šiauliai has been the main operating base for NATO’s Baltic Air Policing since 2004. Since then, it has supported 17 different Allies contributing to the mission. This marks the seventh time the Spanish Air Force has contributed to Baltic Air Policing.