TALLINN - Germany took over guarding the airspace of the Baltic States on Monday, June 30. The ceremony took place in the Lithuanian Air Force base in Zokniai.
This is the second time the German air force has taken part in NATO air police missions in the Baltic states. The first time was from June to September in 2005.
"There are several reasons why Baltic states can't defend their airspace. The biggest of them is of course the finance side. Buying necessary fighter aircraft would be beautifully opalescent, but very expensive, top of the ice mountain of air security. There'll be technical maintenance, infrastructures and all other necessary things," said Aet Kukk, spokesperson from Estonian Ministry of National Defense.
There will be 120 soldiers guarding the airspace with four F-4F Phantom fighter aircraft, said the Lithuanian defense ministry in a press release.
Security of airspace in the Baltic countries is part of general security in NATO. To guarantee every member country is equally defended, NATO started to defend Baltic airspace on three- to four-month rotations beginning March 29, 2004. Since then, the violations of airspace have decreased remarkably.
"The presence of NATO fighter aircraft sends a clear message and increases the trustworth[iness] of [the] whole Alliance. Secondly, it is [a] very clear and concrete example for the people: We are not alone; we have lots of [military] friends," said Kukk.
Baltic countries have decided to apply to keep that solution until 2018, and they've taken on some of the expenses related to the airspace security. Since the beginning of 2008, they've begun to cover the housing expenses of the crews and pilots. From 2010 they will start to cover deployment (going on a mission) and de-deployment (returning from a mission) expenses.
Kukk said that by 2010 or 2011 the Baltic countries have to work out a plan to protect the airspace security after 2018. At the moment it's too soon to choose a solution, but the countries are cooperating on the issue.
"[When] our security of airspace is protected by allies, [it] allows us to use our limited resources elsewhere 's above all to take part in international missions [in Afghanistan and elsewhere] and fulfill other responsibilities taken in NATO," explained Kukk.
Despite the fact that the Baltic countries form the Baltic triangle, the countries inevitably have different priorities. For Estonia it's most likely cyber-security, and for Lithuania, energy security probably tops the list.