Russia is to base up to a squadron of Sukhoi Su-27s at the doorstep of NATO in Belarus. Before the end of 2013 the Flankers, as they are being designated by NATO., will likely find a new home near the city of Lida.
Belarusian Defense Minister Yury Zhadobi confirmed on Wednesday that Russia will have a fighter unit in his country before the new year starts. Earlier Russian military experts said that Lida was the preferred location, situated near the Belarus borders with Poland and Lithuania.
The move is extra interesting since Belarus just withdrew its aging 17 single-seat Su-27Ps and 4 dual-seat Su-27UBM1 in December 2012 from active military service, leaving its air defence to 12 modernized MiG-29BMs and 8 dual-seat MiG-29UBs. Officially Belarus has an additional 18 MiG-29Bs, but the airworthiness status of those older aircraft is unknown.
Russia and Belarus both seem keen to keep their air assets at level. On paper NATO has 84 fighter jets on its borders with Belarus. The Polish Air Force flies 48 Lockheed Martin F-16 Jastrząb and 32 Mikoyan Gurevich MiG-29s.
The Baltic Air Policing mission of NATO based in Lithuania has an additional four fighter jets. This mission is rotated between NATO countries and it will be Belgian F-16s flying from the Baltic States the coming months.
Four French Air Force Mirage F1-CRs started their last month of patrolling the Baltic Sea. They have been operating from Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania since April 30th, 2013, as part of NATO’s commitment to protect the airspace of its most northeastern member states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
It are not always fancy Russian Bears or Blackjacks that ‘need’ an intercept, as is shown by a mission report of July 22nd released by the Armée de l’Air .
,,At 20:15 the sirens go off at Šiauliai airbase. Two Mirage F1-CRs take off for a mission to identify a ,,bogey” over the Baltic Sea. During this mission a light aircraft registered in Italy was intercepted, identified and escorted. It first was seen performing what could be interpreted as evasive maneuvers and it failed radio contact with air traffic control. Upon establishing radio contact with the Mirage F1-CR patrol, the French fighters escorted the intercepted airplane to its landing at Ventspils, Latvia.”
Belgian F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons will take on the Baltic Air Policing duties of NATO from September to December 2013, reports the press service of the Belgian Air Component.
From Šiauliai Airbase in Lithuania four F-16 fighter aircraft supported by 50 personnel will provide air cover and air interception for NATO’s most eastern North European aerospace. It will be the third time for the Belgian Vipers, after earlier participation in 2004 and 2006.
Every Belgian fighter pilot will clock about 15 tot 20 flight hours per month, totaling 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. 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 airspace of its member nations. The same defence agreement also counts for the NATO countries of Luxemburg, Iceland and Slovenia who all lack fighter aircraft.