Four Norwegian Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon jets have landed at the Šiauliai NATO airbase, located in Lithuania. The Norwegians will be involved in the Baltic Air Policing operation.
The Norwegian component, consisting of ca. 90 persons, will take over the task of protecting the Baltic airspace. Earlier on, the Italian Air Force fulfilled these duties. The responsibility is going to be transferred during an official ceremony, scheduled on 30th April. The Italians will not return to their motherland yet, they will still maintain their presence at the Šiauliai base, supporting the Norwegian forces. It is not the first time, when some forces are involved in the Baltic Air Policing operation, directly after the previous rotation. Another case like that can be seen in Malbork – since the Belgian F-16 fighters are going to stay there as well (see below).
The upcoming rotation, starting on 1st May, is going to involve 8 NATO fighters, staying in Lithuania, and another 4 jets deployed to Estonia (RAF’s Eurofighter Typhoons). Additional four jets will be operating from the Polish 22nd Tactical Air Base in Malbork – these will be the Belgian F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The last rotation of Baltic Air Policing operation also involved the Polish MiG-29 Fulcrums – these jets provided support for the Italian Air Force Eurofighters, with the Italians being in charge of the operation.
NATO has decided to bolster the airspace policing in the Baltic states due to the Russian threat, emerging in the light of the Ukrainian crisis. Earlier on, Baltic Air Policing had been realized by a single detachment in Lithuania, while the current operations involve fighters deployed by two nations, with additional forces deployed to Estonia and Poland (in case of Poland, the component is stationed at the Malbork AB, mentioned above).