ALLIANCE FOREVER: Tutkus explained that Lithuania, and the Baltics, cannot afford financing their own airspace policing mission, while upgrading existing forces.
VILNIUS - For at least a decade Lithuania will not acquire a better means of airspace protection than the NATO-sanctioned air-policing mission, Armed Forces Commander Major General Valdas Tutkus said this week. In his words, seeking to present as many possible arguments for continuing the air policing mission indefinitely, the Lithuanian Armed Forces intend to continue developing the infrastructure of the Aviation Base in Zokniai, attracting NATO investments and raising the level of personnel's skills.
In Tutkus' words, the airspace surveillance and control system will also be improved. The idea of modernizing old Soviet radars and pooling resources for the purchase of modern three-dimension radar will be given up.
"It is within our interests to retain the NATO air policing mission for as long as possible, at least until 2018. If there was no such mission, both Lithuania and the rest of the Baltic states would have to tackle the problem of air policing themselves, would have to think about purchasing fighters," Tutkus told the Baltic News Service.
In his words, if Lithuania planned to purchase military aircraft in the current defense planning cycle, which will end in 2014, the nation would not be able to meet its commitments as to modernizing its existing military capabilities.
According to information, the four-month mission cost the allies an average of 6 's 7 million litas (1.7 's 2 million euros).
"In order to keep the allies here as long as possible, we want to facilitate the missions for our partners as much as possible, improving above-ground maintenance in Zokniai, where at least 19 projects are planned to be implemented. Together with colleagues from Latvia and Estonia, we will seek to prepare specialists in the coming several years to be able to take over control of military airplanes from Alliance partners," Tutkus said.
In Tutkus' words, there are plans to propose use of Lithuania airspace for training flights to NATO officials, as air traffic in Western Europe is intense. The Armed Forces commander said the allies could be interested in the possibility of organizing night flights and shooting exercises in Lithuania.
In Tutkus' words, despite an increasing number of violations of Lithuania's airspace by Russian and Belarusian planes, airspace surveillance and control is being constantly improved.
Rotations of allies in the North Atlantic Council-sanctioned Baltic air policing mission have been planned until the end of 2007.
The Turkish contingent currently performing the mission was to be replaced by Spanish pilots on Aug. 1. Spanish airmen with Mirage fighters will be deployed in Lithuania for four months. This will be the tenth mission since the start of the NATO air policing operation in Lithuania in March 2004.