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Lithuania thanked Italy for eight months of security in its airspace

2015.08.27
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On August 27 the air contingent of the Italian Air Force finished its duty on the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission and was farewelled at the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania. Italian soldiers were guarding the NATO airspace over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia for two consecutive rotations, the total of 8 months, with four Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets.

 

“Lithuania appreciates Italy’s contribution to the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic states. This enhanced air policing mission as well as other forms of NATO’s assurance measures are crucial not only for reassuring the people of the Baltic states but also for ensuring security and peace. The aim of the enhanced NATO air policing mission is not only a demonstration of voluntary allies’ commitment to collective defence but also a visible proof of allies’ solidarity and unity,” Vice Minister of National Defence Marijus Velička said at the ceremony.

 

For the first quarter of 2015 the Italian Contingent served as the lead contingent of the air policing mission which was augmented by a Polish air contingent also deployed in Šiauliai and a Spanish air contingent deployed in Estonia. The Italian unit stayed for the second rotation in the role of the augmenting contingent to the new lead air contingent provided by Norway as of May 1.

 

“Soldiers of Italy spent nearly 900 hours in the air over the period of the mission while scrambling for both purposes, of training and of actual operations,” commander of the Italian air contingent Colonel Vito Cracas said. Italian pilots not only were not only monitoring the airspace over the Baltic states but also trained with Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian air traffic controllers down on the ground and pilots from NATO allies in the air. According to Col V. Craco, the NATO Air Policing Mission in the Baltic States is a great demonstration of Italy’s commitment to collective defence and contribution to the security of both, its own and those countries that have no air policing capabilities to protect their airspace.

 

Over the double-length mission period Italian troops also contributed to social campaigns: continually volunteered at the home of infants of Šiauliai, helped taking caring of children, arranged charity campaigns.

 

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The NATO Air Policing Mission will continue being conducted in a strengthened format in the Baltic states as of September 1. Hungary with four Jas-39 Gripen fighter aircraft deployed in Šiauliai will take over as the lead nation from Norway. Hungary’s air contingent will be strengthened by a German air contingent with four Eurofighter Typhoon fighters from the Amari Air Base in Estonia.

 

The Baltic states seek that the main contingent of the NATO Baltic Air Mission operating from Šiauliai would be augmented with additional capabilities deployed in both, Estonia and Lithuania, and there are ongoing consultations with NATO allies regarding the matter. NATO allies and commands continually carry out assessments of the situation and are ready to deploy additional air assets to augment the mission promptly if needed.

 

NATO countries began sending military personnel and aircraft to guard Baltic states’ skies in 2004, upon Lithuania’s, Latvia’s and Estonia’s NATO accession. In spring 2014, immediately after the Russian annexation of Crimea, NATO allies strengthened protection of the Baltic airspace, decisions to strengthen land and maritime security followed.

 

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia cooperatively render comprehensive Host Nation Support and provide logistical support to all the deployed air capabilities for the total of up to annual EUR 15 million.

 

Photo credits: Antanas Gedrimas (LAF AB)

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