The commander of the outgoing Italian Air Force Eurofighter detachment, Colonel Federico Sacco Maino, passed the symbolic key to the Belgian F-16 detachment Commandant Renaud Petitjean whose 80-strong team will relieve the Italian detachment. The Belgians – lead nation for the seventh time – are augmented by the French Air and Space Force Mirage 2000-5 detachment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Georges Abihanna and both detachments will continue the enduring NATO mission for the next four months.
General Gilles Juventin, Allied Air Command Deputy Chief of Staff Support, represented NATO during the ceremony and underlined the determination and rock-solid commitment to collective defence.
It was Belgian F-16 jets, which almost 20 years ago started the seamless sequence of Allied fighter deployments that have since ensured the territorial integrity of the Baltic Allies’ airspace. Hours after the signature of the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to the Alliance, Belgian F-16s flew into Šiauliai Air Base beginning the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission safeguarding the airspace in the region.
The mission has evolved: in 2014, Ämari Air Base in Estonia was added as a second air base for NATO Air Policing in the region and additional fighter detachments were authorized under enhanced Air Policing e.g deploying to Malbork and Lask Air Bases in Poland. The enhanced capability was introduced to assure eastern Allies after Russia’s invasion of Crimea.
And since 2022, added the Air Shielding mission to the new normal in the region. Now in response to Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine, additional fighter jets, tanker aircraft and intelligence and surveillance aircraft join as well as Surface-Based Air Defence systems rotate into the members along the eastern flank to bolster NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence capability in support of the Alliance’s concept of Deterrence and Defence of the Euro-Atlantic area.