NATO And Lithuania Mark 20 Years Of Baltic Air Policing


Senior civilian and military representatives from Lithuania, several Allies and NATO gathered at Šiauliai, Lithuania for a handover ceremony marking 20 years of Baltic Air Policing also marking 20 years of Lithuania’s membership in NATO.

“Today is a very special day, and Šiauliai is a very special place; 20 years ago, the first allied fighter jets landed here,” said His Excellence Gitanas Nausėda, President of the Republic of Lithuania. “At that moment, a long and difficult journey was completed. Lithuania finally joined the NATO family united by love for freedom and democracy, by trust and respect, and by our commitment to each other. Lithuania chose to become part of the Western collective security and defence,” he stated, adding: “ it was the best decision Lithuania took, the best investment we have ever made. It has also brought us the best friends one could have. Thank you for being together.”

“Twenty years ago, Lithuania marked a pivotal moment in its history by joining and becoming a full-fledged members of the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance together with Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia,” said Admiral Joachim Rühle, Chief of Staff at Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, NATO’s strategic command that plans, coordinates and oversees Alliance operations. “This was a milestone for both national and collective security,” he said also referring to the fact that “this year mark NATO’s 75th Anniversary – for three quarters of a century, NATO Allies have worked together to keep one billion people safe. At a time when we face uncertainty and unpredictability, our unity sends a clear message – NATO is capable, modern and if required ready to defend every inch of Allied territory,” the Admiral added.

Re-enacting what happened on March 29, 2004, a Belgian F-16 fighter jet touched down at the Lithuanian Air Force Base. After taxiing to an apron, the pilot stepped out of the cockpit and handed the NATO flag to Major General Harold Van Pee – now the Commander of NATO’s Northern Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) at Uedem, Germany, then the commander of the first Belgian fighter detachment conducting NATO Air Policing.

General Van Pee presented the Alliance’s flag to the Chief of Defence of the Republic of Lithuania who handed over the flag to the President of the Republic of Lithuania commemorating the moment of accession.

As a formation of French Mirage 2000-5 fighters soared over the air base, the outgoing and incoming detachment commanders exchanged the key to the Baltic airspace. Lithuania and NATO bade farewell to Belgium and France after conducting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing for four months at the base in Lithuania and welcoming Spain and Portugal who are taking over the mission until the end of July.

Beginning moments after Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance at the end of March 2004, the collective peacetime mission of Baltic Air Policing has since continued seamlessly . Lithuania has hosted 64 consecutive rotations of Allied fighter jets. Seventeen Allies have taken turns deploying their fighter jets in consecutive detachments safeguarding the skies over the Baltic Sea and, most recently contributing to Allied deterrence and defence on the Eastern Flank.

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