Italians Take Over NATO Baltic Air Mission

The Italian Air Force is now leading NATO’s Baltic air policing mission, with Polish and Belgian fighters expected to arrive this month to supplement the new rotation, according to a NATO release. Polish MiG-29s arrived at Siauliai AB, Lithuania, on Jan. 5 to augment the NATO detachment, which will run to the end of April. In addition to Italy’s four Eurofighters, Spanish Eurofighters deployed to Amari AB, Estonia, in late December and Belgium will send F-16s to relieve Dutch fighters at Malbork in Poland later in January. During the Dec. 31 change of command ceremony at Siauliai, Italian Detachment Commander Col. Marco Bertoli said the BAP mission is important for the Italian Air Force, noting the country is now the first ally to participate in all of NATO’s interim air policing operations, including those over Albania, Slovenia, Iceland, and now the Baltic States. In 2014, NATO increased the size of its fighter rotation in the Baltics in the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, and it has seen a sharp increase in intercept activities. Since September 2014, the latest NATO BAP rotation conducted over 150 sorties and performed approximately 70 intercepts over the Baltic Sea, according to NATO officials.