VILNIUS - Poland took over the lead of NATO's Baltic air policing mission on Thursday, with France's most powerful fighter aircraft reinforcing the mission, the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said.
"NATO air defense is crucial today. Back in Madrid, NATO countries agreed to bolster their deterrence and defense capabilities, including air defense," it quoted Deputy Defense Minister Vilius Semeska as saying during the changeover ceremony at Lithuania's military air base in Siauliai.
"We acknowledge that air defense capabilities should play a greater role in ensuring the security of the Baltic skies," he added.
The Polish Air Force is staying in Lithuania after completing its rotation in a reinforcement role and is taking over the lead role from Hungary with four F-16 fighter jets.
France has deployed four Rafale fighter aircraft to Lithuania for the first time to reinforce the mission. This is the French Air and Space Force's ninth Baltic air policing rotation overall and its sixth deployment in Lithuania.
The outgoing Hungarian detachment carried out the mission with four JAS-39 Grippen fighter jets.
The mission is currently being augmented by the German Air Force with four Eurofighter jets from the Estonian air base in Amari.
NATO member countries have taken turns safeguarding Baltic airspace since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the Alliance back in 2004.