NATO Baltic Air Policing jets on round-the-clock patrols

US Air Force F-35s at Ämari.
US Air Force F-35s at Ämari. Source: EDF

NATO has strengthened its air security readiness in the Baltic States in response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This means round-the-clock air patrols in all three Baltic States.

Brig. Gen. Rauno Sirk, commander of the Estonian air force (Õhuvägi) told ETV show "Esimene stuudio" Sunday that: "Fighter jets are flying in NATO airspace, and in our airspace here in Estonia, which are armed and have the task of protecting our airspace. So, in addition to air security, we have airplanes flying around the clock-"

Sirk added that NATO had been aware of the imminence of the Russian attack, which started in the early morning of February 24, the preceding evening, at around 9 p.m., it can now be revealed.

The patrols are round-the-clock, ERR reports though some aspects of patrols are still being conducted in accordance with peacetime regulations, and changes to rules of force need to be approved at a higher level of NATO, Sirk added.

Capt. Taavi Laasik of the Estonian air force told "Esimene stuudio" that: "The air policing unit at Ämari can also switch to its air defense status very rapidly."

"To this end, changes will be made to the rules governing the use of force, and these changes will be approved at a higher NATO level."

This did not mean that self-defense was wholly contingent on that decision, under all circumstances, Laasik added. "Although the rules for the use of force in air security are stricter, there is always have the right to self-defense, "said

NATO has strengthened its air security in connection with the Russian aggression in Ukraine, and has also taken additional measures to protect the airspace of member states, with the result that member states have added additional aircraft to the NATO chain of command, as a way of demonstrate its enhanced presence on the alliance's eastern flank eastern flank.

While the aircraft used remain the same in the current, heightened security situation, Laasik said, their armaments may be changed, depending on the situation.

NATO's air policing mission is based at Ämari, west of Tallinn, and at Šiauliai, Lithuania.

The mission itself is a peacetime mission, and aims to preserve the security of alliance airspace.

Three U.S. Air Force Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II multi-role combat stealth jets and four Belgian Air Force (Luchtcomponent/Composante air) General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon multi-role fighers are based at Ämari at present.

Estonia's air force (Õhuvägi) is organizationally a part of the Estonian Defense Forces (EDF).


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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