MQ-9 Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) of the US Air Force's 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2 have been deployed to Estonia for the first time and will operate out of the Ämari Air Base until the end of July.
In cooperation with the Estonian defense forces, the U.S. Air Force decided to reposition drones, personnel and auxiliary equipment to Estonia to support allies in the Baltic region, spokespeople for Estonia's military headquarters said on Tuesday.
One of the reasons why the UAVs were repositioned to Estonia is that a runway is under construction at the Miroslawiec Air Base in northwestern Poland, where the aircraft are normally stationed.
"It's a pleasure to welcome our allies at Ämari. Drones are a hot topic nowadays, and in aviation culture the implementation of drones constitutes the laying of a new foundation," said the commander of the Estonian Air Force, Col. Rauno Sirk.
He described the integration of drones into day-to-day aviation operations as a challenge.
The commander of the Air Force offered his gratitude to the Civil Aviation Authority (Lennuamet) and the air navigation services company Lennuliiklusteeninduse AS for their contribution to the shaping of our airspace and a set of rules in a manner which allows UAVs to operate here freely, yet under control.
U.S. MQ-9 Reaper drones have been carrying out air operations out of Poland since May 2018. The operations aim to promote stability and security within the region and strengthen relationships with NATO allies and other European partners. Earlier drones of the same unit have been temporarily deployed also to Romania.
The US military's website stripes.com reported that the Miroslawiec Air Base could eventually factor into plans for a larger US presence in Poland. A 2019 deal between Warsaw and Washington called for the establishment of a drone squadron in the country. It said that negotiations connected to basing more US troops in Poland are ongoing, with officials from both sides last week saying that a deal is imminent.
USAFE did not say how many aircraft and airmen were repositioned to Estonia's Amari Air Base, citing operational security. The troops belong to the Air Force's 52nd Expeditionary Operations Group Detachment 2.
The move, while temporary, could give NATO a surveillance boost around the upper Baltics, where Russia's military is active.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste