Bergmanis: Eight NATO planes is enough for the Baltics

Latvia's Defense Minister, Raimonds Bergmanis, on Wednesday played down local alarm at an announcement by NATO that the number of planes taking part in the air policing mission over Baltic skies would be halved next year, despite increasing numbers of scrambles to intercept Russian planes. 

"At the moment it is important to remember two important things - firstly, NATO must have the ability to provide an adequate response to the operational situation, and secondly, it is necessary to look at the situation as a whole... NATO's commitment to air space patrolling over the Baltic countries remains unchanged. There is no reason to doubt [that]," Bergmanis said.

Bergmanis was almost exactly echoing the words of Estonian air force chief Lt. Col. Riivo Valge who told Estonian national broadcaster ERR that eight NATO fighter jets is enough for the Baltic air policing mission and there is no need to worry for the number being reduced by half.

Valge said that the decision to cut the number of fighter jets stationed in Poland and Lithuania has to be looked at as part of a bigger picture.

"When the deterrence measures kicked off, the first thing that was done was increase the number of aircraft. At present we have land force units here as well as NATO personnel on the sea, and eight planes is enough force for the Baltic air policing mission and the NATO contingent currently here will even increase in total numbers, not decrease," Valge said.

According to Valge his experience has shown that if the situation should become critical, it is possible to quickly bring in the necessary number of aircraft. "It doesn't have to be a certain number -- it can be increased or reduced as the situation dictates," he added.

NATO will downsize the air policing mission in the Baltic countries by half, with eight fighter-jets due to patrol the skies as of September as compared with the current 16 jets, four in Estonia and four in Lithuania.

The planes are used to intercept and identify Russian planes flying in the area, frequently with their transponders turned off. 

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