The German air force on Thursday handed over the duties of Baltic air policing performed out of the Amari air base in northwestern Estonia to the air force of Belgium.
The commander of the Estonian defense forces, Lt. Gen. Riho Terras, gave the members of the German contingent medals of the Baltic air policing mission and thanked them for the mission. He also said words of welcome to the members of the Belgian air force who are starting their four-month mission here, military spokespeople in Tallinn said.
"NATO is a defense organization that is ready to stand up for us in any weather. A good evidence of this is the Baltic air policing mission, which is sending a strong message of continued unity of the allies both to our own people as well as to our unpredictable neighbor," Defense Minister Hannes Hanso said at the handover-takeover ceremony.
The ceremony was attended by the Belgian ambassador to Estonia, Philippe Beke, the German charge d'affaires, Reinhard Wiemer, the chief of the NATO air operations command in Uedem, Germany, Lt. Gen. Joachim Wundrak, and the commander of the air component of the Belgian defense forces, Maj. Gen. Frederik Vansina.
A handover ceremony took place on Thursday also at the Siauliai air base in Lithuania, where Hungary formally transferred lead responsibility for the mission to the air force of Spain that will use Eurofighter jets to perform the mission.
The Belgian unit stationed at Amari is part of the 10th Tactical Wing of the Belgian air force headquartered in Kleine Brogel, Flanders. It uses F-16 Fighting Falcon jets to perform the mission.
For Belgium, this is the second deployment as an augmenting nation after taking an extended seven-month rotation from January to August 2015. Belgium served as the first nation to provide fighters under the Baltic air policing rotational plan in March 2004. Their airmen and aircraft also executed the mission in 2006 and 2013.
The Baltic air policing mission illustrates the alliance's ability to share the security responsibilities of the Baltic nations. Continuously executed since 2004, Allied nations regularly rotate the mission command as part of the alliance's collective defence agreement, providing air policing jets in support of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. So far, 17 different NATO nations have executed this mission.
The Baltic air policing mission is a visible assurance to NATO allies and a demonstration of the alliance's commitment to the collective defense of its members.