Four Dutch F-16 Fighting Falcon jets are already in place at the Siauliai airbased in Lithuania where they will replace four French Mirage 2000 planes that have operated out of Lithuania for the last few months.
“The rotation between French and Dutch air contingents taking place in Šiauliai Air Base today once again demonstrates the unified NATO efforts to guard Baltic skies, while NATO air policing mission is a practical example of Alliance solidarity and unity,” Lithuania's Minister of National Defence, Raimundas Karoblis said at the handover ceremony.
Karoblis thanked the outgoing French rotation who have been protecting the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Estonia.
“The contribution of the whole French team – its commanders, pilots and all team members – is invaluable and vital for people of Lithuania and the entire Baltic region,” Karoblis said.
Aside from their main mission, the French soldiers also trained together with Lithuanian Air Force counterparts, shared experience and knowledge with Air Force Base personnel, held community events in Šiauliai town and hosted school and student excursions.
The Minister of National Defence welcomed the Royal Netherlands Air Force detachment back in Lithuania. This is its third deployment to the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission.
“The Dutch jets, which will be reinforced by the German ones from Estonia, will be responsible for the guarding airspace above the Allied troops on the ground and in the sea, including the Dutch troops that will be deployed under German-led multinational battalion already in March,” Karoblis said.
The majority of the roughly 120 airmen of different specialisations of the Royal Netherlands Air Force detachment are deployed from Leeuwarden and Vokel airbases in Germany.
The NATO Air Policing mission in the Baltic states was launched in March 2004 upon the NATO accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. To date, 17 NATO allies have deployed air capabilities to conduct the mission, the 43rd rotation of which since 2004 is now going to be carried out by the Dutch air contingent.
Meanwhile Germany's contingent of four Eurofighter Typhoon jets will continue to operate for another rotation from the Amari airbase in Estonia, providing full coverage for the airspace of all three Baltic states.
The chief mission of the aircrews is to intercept unidentified aircraft and aircraft flying close to NATO airspace without pre-logged flight-plans.
NATO jets scrambled more than 100 times during 2016 as part of the Baltic Air Police program, which has been operating since 2004.
Suitably equipped NATO allies send planes to the Baltics on rotation, as the Baltic states currently lack suitable aircraft of their own.
If you want to see (and hear) what Dutch F-16s are like, check out the video below.