Belgium Airforce F-16 AM in Baltic QRA rotation 2013
Baltic Air Policing
The Baltic air-policing mission is a NATO air defence Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Within the Alliance, preserving airspace integrity is conducted as a collective task jointly and collectively using fighter aircraft for Air Policing. Air Policing is a purely defensive mission. It did not take the events of September 11, 2001 to make the public aware of the fundamental importance of Air Policing and the requirement to have air defence assets available at short notice ensuring safety and security of national and NATO airspace. Since the 1970s, NATO has established a comprehensive system of air surveillance and airspace management means, as well as Quick Reaction Alert assets for intercepts (QRA(I)) provided by its member nations. By means of radar sites, remote data transmission, control and reporting centres (CRCs) and Combined Air Operation Centres (CAOCs) the Alliance ensures constant surveillance and control of its assigned airspace 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. NATO exploits these facilities to react within seconds to air traffic incidents in the Allies’ airspace. This structure of weapon systems, control centres and procedures is referred to as the NATO Integrated Air Defence System (NATINADS). NATINADS has been and remains one cornerstone of Alliance solidarity and cohesion. The responsible Allied Air Headquarters are at Izmir, Turkey and Ramstein, Germany. The dividing line are the Alps. The Headquarters Allied Air Command Ramstein’s air area of responsibility is divided in two Air Policing Areas (APAs):
- APA 1 is controlled by the Combined Air Operation Centre (CAOC) Finderup, Denmark;
- APA 2 is controlled by the CAOC in Uedem, Germany.
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. To ensure Air Policing performance is conducted in a safe and professional way, adequate training was and still is required, as NATO member nations deploy their assets to Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania, on a rotational basis. To standardize training across nations, Headquarters Allied Air Command Ramstein introduced a series of training events called Baltic Region Training Events (BRTEs) to capitalize on experienced aircrews deployed to Šiauliai and to offer superior training for Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian air forces and control facilities.
The three host nations contributed €2.2 million in 2011 to cover the deployment expenses and are supposed to contribute €3.5 million yearly by 2015. In 2012 the Alliance allocated €7 million for Šiauliai airfield modernisation from the Security Investment Programme.
Hungary will perform the mission for the first time in 2015, also Italy plans to carry out the mission in January–April 2015, 14 members participated in Baltic Air Policing so far.
In 2013, the Baltic patrol was called in when the Swedish Air Force was unable to respond to a simulated attack by Russian bombers against Stockholm.