Polish Air Force F-16 fighter jets will take part in NATO training flights over Estonia next week, along with the similar aircraft from Belgium, the country’s defense forces said on Monday.
“From January 10-16, training flights at low altitude in Estonia’s airspace will be carried out not only by the pilots of the Belgian air force F-16 fighters stationed at the Amari airbase near Tallinn, but also by their Polish colleagues who are serving on military aircraft of the same brand in Lithuania,” the Estonian Defense Forces said.
Flights will be conducted in Estonia’s southwest, south, and east, far from populated areas, if possible. Low-altitude flights must be agreed beforehand with the country’s Aviation Department and Air Navigation Services, the agency added.
On Tuesday, the US Air Force deployed F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jets in Poland, so that the aircraft “work with the Polish Baltic Air Policing F-16s in Siauliai, Lithuania and enhanced Air Policing Belgian F-16s in Amari, Estonia,” the Allied Air Command said.
Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, joined NATO in 2004, and the airspace of the three countries has since been guarded by the alliance’s jets, as the Baltic States do not have suitable aircraft for this purpose.
The NATO jets guarding the Baltic airspace are located at Lithuania’s Zokniai airfield near the city of Siauliai and at the Amari airbase. The latter became the additional site for the deployment of NATO aircraft in 2014.
Earlier, NATO is ready to defend Estonia and other allies in the event of an escalation of the volatile security situation in the region, the press service of the Estonian Defense Ministry said on Thursday, citing the US European Command (EUCOM).
EUCOM Commander Gen. Tod Wolters arrived in Tallinn earlier in the week and met on Wednesday with Estonian Defense Minister Kalle Laanet to discuss security issues in the region. In an interview with Bloomberg, Laanet said that the escalation of the situation around Ukraine is causing the biggest rise of tensions in the Baltic countries for the past 30 years.
“We are witnessing the most volatile security crisis on NATO’s eastern borders in decades. With Russia’s continuing military build-up in and around Ukraine, supplemented by Belarussian hybrid attack against our regional Allies, it is necessary to demonstrate the Alliance’s readiness to defend any Ally,” the ministry quoted Laanet in a statement.
Wolters, in turn, expressed NATO’s readiness “to defend each and every Ally” and noted that the bloc’s Enhanced Forward Presence and the Baltic Air Policing mission in Estonia are “a clear demonstration of Allied commitment and solidarity,” according to the ministry.
The Enhanced Forward Presence is the Alliance’s program to increase its presence in Eastern Europe to counter Russia. The allied forces are stationed on the territory of the four eastern NATO members — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. Estonia has hosted 1,200 NATO combat troops since April 2017.
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