The United States, which took over the NATO air defense mission in the Baltic States in January, pulled double duty Monday for Estonia's Independence Day.
Previously scheduled to take part in a flyby of the Estonian military parade in Pärnu, the U.S. planes were diverted first to intercept and identify what turned out to be a Russian reconnaissance plane over international waters, close to Estonia. That task completed, the planes flew to Pärnu in time to take part in the parade. It was the fifth such interception this year.
The U.S. Air Force is currently on its rotation with the Baltic Air Defense mission, and It is operating four F-15 C Eagle fighter-jets from Šiauliai Air Base of the Lithuanian Air Force. The American aircraft took over patrol duty from Belgian F-16AM fighters in January.
The planes deployed on the mission maintain a permanent readiness posture to scramble at short notice and deter actions by any trespassers in Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian airspace. The NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltic States has been active for more than ten years, and already been conducted by Belgian, Danish, Czech, UK, Spanish, U.S., Polish, Norwegian, Dutch, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Turkish, and German air contingents. Hungary and Italy have also stated interest in participating in the mission in the future.
In February the North Atlantic Council approved the Baltic Air Policing mission, which has been in operation since March 2004, to be long-term. Before the extension the mission was mandated only until this year.