In a ceremony held at Ämari Air Base on Thursday, Belgium formally handed off NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission being served out of Ämari Air Base to the French Air and Space Force. In connection with Russia's attack on Ukraine, the French jets were brought to Ämari 15 days ahead of schedule.
"We thank the Belgians for a successful air policing mission at Ämari Air Base, and I can confirm that the residents of Estonia and the Baltics are incredibly grateful for your contribution," Brig. Gen. Rauno Sirk said at Thursday's ceremony according to an Estonian Defense Forces (EDF) press release.
"It is a great honor to welcome the French on their third air policing mission, and we are glad to have you back. There is a war going on in Europe, and your four-month tour here will no doubt be full of challenges."
The French Air Force will be serving Baltic Air Policing, the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) air defense mission, out of Ämari using four Mirage 2000-5F fighter jets.
The French unit serving the mission belongs to the French Air and Space Force's Escadron de Chasse 1/2 Cigognes fighter squadron based out of Luxeuil - Saint-Sauveur Air Base.
The Mirage jets will be on guard at the Estonian air base 24 hours a day, in addition to scrambling to identify aircraft as needed and conducting regular training flights.
The Baltic Air Policing mission, which allies contribute to on a rotating basis, dates back to the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to NATO in March 2004. It was decided at the alliance's 2012 summit in Chicago to extend the mission indefinitely.
The Baltic Air Policing mission is simultaneously served out of Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, where Poland and Denmark handed the mission off to Spain and the Czech Republic on Thursday as well. The Spanish Air Force is serving using F-18 Hornets and the Czech Air Force with JAS 39C Gripens.
France has previously served the Baltic Air Policing mission out of Ämari on two occasions — in 2018 and again in 2020.
Editor: Aili Vahtla