NATO plans to reduce the number of fighter jets involved in the mission to patrol Baltic skies from 16 to «approximately eight» in autumn, as reported by Guardian with reference to the head of the alliance’s press centre Jay Jensen.
Although NATO fighter jets are forced to lift off more and more often in order to intercept Russian aircraft that have been appearing near Baltic airspace lately, Jensen noted that the expected reduction is enough for the mission.
Since Latvia’s entry into NATO in 2004 up until April 2014, organization of regular patrols of Baltic skies has been handled by four fighter jets stationed on Lithuanian Air Force Base in Siauliai.
In reaction to Crimea’s annexation in Ukraine, reinforcements were provided to the mission in Baltic States. NATO fighter jets are now stationed in Siauliai, Emari base in Estonia and Malbroka base in Poland. NATO fighter jets are more and more often forced to intercept Russian military aircraft that fly close to Baltic airspace without any flight plans and with automatic response systems turned off.
On Tuesday, Lithuanian Defence Minister Juozas Olekas told AFP that the expected reduction in the number of NATO fighter jets will not affect the region’s security.
‘Recently there were no airspace violations. Russian aircraft were escorted many times but we avoided violations. Taking that into account, the decision was made based on a rational use of resources,’ – he said.
Vz.lt, has received a short comment from Lithuanian Defence Ministry. In it, the ministry mentioned that this matter is currently in the stage of coordination and Baltic States still want a strengthened patrol mission.
The ministry noted that Baltic States wish NATO airspace patrol mission stationed in Siauliai is provided with reinforcements in Estonia and Lithuania. Lithuania wishes reinforcements to be sent to Siauliai in autumn.
The ministry adds that Norway’s contingent and their four F-16 fighter jets will be replaced by Hungary’s contingent with four JAS-39 Gripen jets on 31 August. NATO airspace patrol mission remains reinforced – the contingent of NATO forces stationed in Siauliai will receive reinforcements from Germany with four Eurofighter Typhoon jets from Emari base in Estonia.
As previously reported by LETA, Estonian media had mentioned last month that a Russian AN-72 breached Estonian airspace and remained in it for nearly a minute on 9 July. The aircraft had automatic response systems turned off. The Russian aircraft did have a previously coordinated flight plan. In accordance with it, the aircraft had to remain in international airspace at all times.
Following this incident, Estonian Foreign Ministry submitted a letter of protest to the Russian embassy in Estonia.