On Friday, January 3rd, the U.S. Air Force took over the +NATO Baltic Air Policing mission from the Belgian Air Force at Zokniai Air Base. The Belgian air commander handed over a symbolic key to the Baltic airspace to the Americans. A detachment of more than 150 troops will police Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian skies for the next four months. Lithuanian Air Force air base commander Major Gintautas Slovikas welcomed his American colleagues in Zokniai and presented them with a loaf of bread as a sign of hospitality. Read more here.
Air Policing is a purely defensive mission. Since the 1970s, NATO has established a comprehensive system of air surveillance and airspace management means, provided by its member nations. The Alliance ensures constant surveillance and control of its assigned airspace 24 hours a day and 365 days a year.
NATO members without their own Air Policing assets are assisted by other NATO members. Luxembourg is covered by interceptors from Belgium, while Slovenia and Albania by Italian aircraft.
Since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, the 24/7 task to police the airspace of the Baltic States was conducted on three-month rotation from Lithuania's First Air Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport, near the northern city of Šiauliai. Starting with the Turkish deployment, rotations changed to a four-month basis. Usual deployments consist of four fighter aircraft with between 50 and 100 support personnel.