Italian Air Force (Aeronautica Militare) jets have arrived at Ämari Air Base, west of Tallinn, ahead of the official handover of the NATO Baltic Air Policing duties from the outgoing German Air Force (Luftwaffe) contingent.
The Italians are bringing their Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs, marking the first time the state-of-the-art, fifth generation multi-role combat fighter has been seen in Estonia.
The Italians personnel's home is the Amendola Air Base in Foggia province, Italy, where their unit, the 13th Fighter-Bomber Squadron, is based.
They will be taking on the Baltic air policing duties from the Germans next week. NATO air forces often use the Ämari posting to carry out valuable training exercises as well as the more quotidian tasks of identifying and sometimes escorting Russian Federation jets flying close to Baltic States' air space.
The tour is the second to be conducted by Italians since Estonia joined NATO in 2004; the last time the Aeronautica Militare was at Ämari came in 2018.
The Germans and their Eurofighter Typhoons are ending a double-header tour which started back in August 2020.
The F-35 is a family of single-engine, supersonic, stealth multirole fighters and is also the first operational supersonic short take-off and vertical landing aircraft (STOVL) stealth fighter, considered by the U.S. as its primary strike fighter for conducting suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) missions, mainly due to its advanced sensors and mission systems. In some aspects it has superseded the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, which is still in service, though the last examples were delivered nearly 10 years ago.
Over 600 F-35 Lightning IIs have been built, and the first flights were made in 2006. The F-35 is operated by the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps.
Other operators include Britain's RAF and the Israeli Air Force, as well as the Italian air force.
The other NATO Baltic Air Policing base is at Šiauliai, Lithuania, which is also hosting the Italian air force, who have just taken over from the Spanish air force, also equipped with Typhoons.
Editor: Andrew Whyte