The number of NATO fighter jets guarding Baltic airspace decreased back to eight after Thursday's handover of the Baltic Air Policing mission to the new contingents serving it.
Four fighter jets each from Belgium and Poland began their four-month rotations in Lithuania and Estonia, respectively, on Thursday.
This total is down from the 13 fighters deployed in the region between April and September 2019 and 12 between September and December 2019.
NATO says that the larger rotations were connected to the alliance's assurance measures implemented following Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
"Such deployments demonstrate NATO's collective resolve to deter any potential threat, and protect the integrity of allies' airspace," a NATO official commenting on the situation on condition of anonymity told BNS. "Allies also benefit from the opportunity to train alongside Baltic air forces and other deployed allied units, such as our enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battlegroups."
The upcoming Baltic Air Policing rotation will again be conducted by two detachments, as usual, the official said. "Their fighter jets will continue to stand ready for the safeguarding of Baltic airspace 24/7," they added.
The Lithuanian Ministry of National Defence did not comment on the decrease in the size of the air policing contingent.
"Decisions on contingents taking part in NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission are made by NATO [Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe]," ministry spokesperson Asta Galdikaite told BNS.
NATO member states have taken turns safeguarding Baltic airspace since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which do not have fighter aircraft of their own, joined the alliance in 2004. Allied fighter aircraft are deployed to Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania and Ämari Air Base in Estonia on a rotating basis.
Editor: Aili Vahtla