As of today, 30 December 2013, the US Air Force will try to protect NATO’s Baltic flank with four McDonnell Douglas (Boeing) F-15C Eagle fighter jets.
The Americans from the 48th Fighter Group out of RAF Lakenheath take over the Baltic Air Policing task from Belgian Air Component F-16AM Fighting Falcons, which were the successors of the French Mirage F1s in the air defence mission that rotates amongst NATO members.
From Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania every USAF Eagle pilot will fly about 20 hours per month, three months in a row, with 320 flight hours for the entire mission. NATO’s detachment of fighter jets in Lithuania regularly intercepts or shadows Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea. NATO provides a similar air policing detachment to Iceland, where it were also USAF F-15Cs that patrolled the skies during the last few months.
The former Soviet Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are since 2004 part of NATO. Since they lack proper air defence assets themselves, other NATO members jump in on the joint task to protect the aerospace of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft. As of 2015 NATO is considering a second base of operations: Ämari in Estonia.
A fun side-note from Estononian newspaper Postimees: for the first time since it gained independence in 1991 Estonia recorded a supersonic boom in its skies on 6 November 2013. It was caused by exercising NATO aircraft that flew at an estimated 28,000 feet over the Viljandi and Valga counties.
Source: NATO / USAF / Lithuanian Ministry of Defence / Postimees