Despite a rise in Russian air activity over northern Europe, NATO is halving the size of its Baltic Air Policing mission headquartered in Lithuania, as it believes the number of aircraft stationed there exceeds the needs of the mission.
The Air Policing mission has carried out a large part of the interceptions of Russian aircraft approaching and, on rare occasions, violating allied airspace, since the start of the Ukraine conflict in early 2014.
NATO reported that last year allied aircraft scrambled 524 times across Europe, 442 of which were scrambles in response to Russian air activity. It said 150 of these scrambles against Russian air activity took place over the Baltics. This year there have been more than 310 scrambles over Europe, with more than 245 of which being prompted by Russian air activity.
According to NATO’s deputy spokesperson Carmen Romero, despite the recent surge in activity near allied airspace, the Baltic air mission is to lose half of its aircraft as of September. Romero says that NATO does not consider the current size of the mission—16 aircraft—necessary, so it will reduce the deployment to eight units.
“Our military commanders assess that this posture is appropriate and adequate,” Romero told Newsweek. “This is double the number we had before the start of the Russia-Ukraine crisis. Prior to the crisis, the mission normally had four aircraft for each rotation, all based at Šiauliai airbase in Lithuania.”
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