VILNIUS - Defense Minister Juozas Olekas will urge his Latvian and Estonian counterparts in Jurmala to support extending the NATO-sanctioned Baltic air-policing mission until 2018. "I will emphasize returning to our goal of patrolling Baltic air space by the next decade, when the new cycle of defense planning starts," Olekas told the Baltic News Service.
Armed Forces Commander Major General Valdas Tutkus has said that if Lithuania had to plan the purchase of military planes in the current defense planning cycle, which will end in 2014, the fulfillment of Lithuania's commitments concerning force goals 's those related to the development and modernization of land forces 's would be affected.
The rotation of allies in the Baltic air policing mission has been planned until the end of 2007. Spanish military aviators with four Mirage fighters have been guarding Baltic airspace since the beginning of August. It is the 10th air-policing mission since the operation began in March 2004.
The defense minister said that other issues to be discussed at the meeting with Atis Slakteris and Jurgen Ligi would include the establishment in Lithuania of a joint Baltic management center to manage the air-policing mission.
At a meeting in Parnu last November, the three Baltic defense ministers agreed that the center would be established in Karmelava, in central Lithuania, to replace the current regional Air Space Control Center and the Air-Policing Mission Control Unit. The new center will allow faster analysis of air space surveillance information and more rapid response to possible violations of the air space.
Currently, signals of military radars are forwarded to the Lithuanian Air Force's Air Space Control Center in Karmelava where operators observe and identify aircraft and, in case of necessity, pass on the information to the joint center in Germany that orders the take-off of NATO fighters in Zokniai.
Lithuania already has all the equipment necessary to manage the center, and has trained several members of personnel. However, finding a solution to technical and procedural matters has been slow. A relevant agreement among the three Balts on establishing the center has yet to be signed.