The three are replacing detachments from Belgium and Poland which have protected the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since January.
The Spanish and British air force contingents will operate out of Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania, while the French air force will fly from Ämari in Estonia. Spain is the lead nation for the mission.
“We thank Spain, France and the UK for taking over NATO’s Baltic-air policing mission”, said NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu.
“This 24/7 mission demonstrates that our commitment to the security of our Allies is rock-solid and that our vital work goes on despite the coronavirus pandemic,” she added.
NATO’s Baltic Air Policing deployment is a defensive mission that sees allies sending planes to patrol the airspace of the three Baltic States, who do not have fighter jets of their own. The Air Policing programme keeps fighter jets on alert 24/7 and ready to scramble in case of suspicious air activity close to the Alliance’s borders.
The mission which has been running since 2004 took on greater prominence following Russia’s illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. NATO aircraft routinely intercept Russian military aircraft near the Baltic States which frequently fail to adhere to international air safety norms. In 2019, Allied jets attached to NATO’s Baltic air-policing mission scrambled around 200 times.
Earlier in the week the Spanish air force posted this video online of their jets taking off and heading to the Baltic.
4️⃣ ?? #F18 take off destination #Šiauliai Air Base in ??.— España en la OTAN ?? (@SpainNATO) April 27, 2020
The ?? Air Force will lead next @NATO's Baltic Air Policing rotation.#NATO’s #BAP is aimed to safeguard ????&?? airspace.#WeAreNATO ??
? @EjercitoAire pic.twitter.com/0HCHm7ZuTR
Nor is that the limit of NATO's air capability in the Baltic region. On April 20 and 21, air forces from four NATO countries and two partner countries and a NATO E-3A AWACS plane conducted live-fly training flights in segregated training areas and international airspace over the Baltic Sea.
Belgian and Polish F-16 fighter aircraft, as well as Lithuanian C-27 transport aircraft and a SAR helicopter, German Eurofighter aircraft and an A400M air-to-air refueler operated with Finnish F-18 and Swedish JAS-39 fighters during several scenarios.