NATO decided on Thursday 4 September 2014 to permanently increase the number of fighters to protect the Baltics to 18 jets and to give the three current bases a more or less permanent status, although the aircraft and units assigned to these bases will still rotate amongst the NATO member states.
Thereby what more or less started as a French initiative to train with Polish forces and back-up NATOs flank on the shores of the Baltic Sea will officially become more a steady base of operations: Malbork, or 22. Baza Lotnictwa Taktycznego (22.BLT; 22nd Tactical Air Base) of the Polish Armed Forces. The Polish Air Force’s 41. Eskadra Lotnictwa Taktycznego (41.elt or 41 Tactical Air Squadron) operating MiG-29A/G/GTs will have permanent guests rotating every three or four months. Currently the Royal Netherlands Air Force has a quartet of its F-16 fighter jets operating from this delta area at the Baltic sea, with the airbase only 42 miles (68 km) southwest of Russian enclave of Kaliningrad.
North of Kaliningrad in Lithuania Šiauliai Airbase – where NATOs Baltic Air Policing Mission started in 2004 – will remain as a main operating base for the mission with at least six aircraft assigned – currently Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188s. Ämari Airbase’s status in Estonia, which gave NATO a nice jump base since April over the standard Russian flying routes over the Gulf of Finland, will be officially increased from secondary to the third main airbase. Currently the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) flies four Eurofighter EF2000s from Ämari and holds another pair on 96 hour alert notice back home.
With a new status deal signed with Sweden and Finland, it will become more easier for NATO to operate from these previously officially neutral countries as well. The Finnish Air Force itself provides irregular air cover and combat air patrol with its F-18Cs and the Swedish Air Force flying JAS 39 Gripen planes from the Ronneby Airbase near Karlskrona. Like earlier this week the Swedes put additional air cover on the strategically located island of Gotland, but with current budget restrains the standard alert response force of 6 to 8 aircraft has been downsized to a pair of Gripens only and their deployment to Visby airfield at Gotland has so far only be temporarily at times. But both the Finnish and Swedish air forces are no part of the military structure of NATO but can be if those countries decide to put some of their units at NATOs disposal, the Fins even have a fully NATO-certified fighter unit.
NATO’s slightly tougher stand – many experts believe still not a big match if Russia decides to take control of Estonia and/or Latvia and/or Lithuania and/or Gotland – might even influence Norway’s future air force organisation. Oslo has been keen to reduce the number of main operating bases for its future F-35 Lightning II fleet from two to one: Ørland. But with such a vast country and Russia recently starting to improve its official civilian settlement on the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, upgrading its bases near the Scandinavian borders and re-establishing its military bases in the Arctics, keeping Bodø as the second main air base for the future fighter fleet of Norway doesn’t seem such a bad idea after all. Especially with increasing Norwegian economical interest in offshore oil and gas fields in the North Pole area.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger