TYPHOON FGR-4 aircraft from the Royal Air Force (RAF) have arrived at Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania to take up NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission for the summer, patrolling and protecting NATO airspace, the MoD in London announced on 1 May.
135 Expeditionary Air Wing – consisting of some 150 RAF personnel – has been deployed to Lithuania for the mission: all UK and Lithuanian mandated COVID-19 precautions have been taken. Known as Operation Azotize, the mission is a core defence task that the RAF will complete without impacting the military support to the British government’s COVID-19 response.
“Britain’s adversaries will not let COVID-19 stop them threatening our citizens and allies. It is for that reason the UK armed forces continue their operations at home and abroad – ensuring the collective defence of NATO and our national security,” stated British Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace.
The mission will be conducted alongside F-18 fighters from the Spanish Air Force. Aircraft will patrol the Baltic area to deter any threats to NATO airspace, safely monitoring and investigating any aircraft flying near Lithuanian airspace with transponders switched off or without a flight plan.
Last summer the RAF deployed to Estonia for the same mission, intercepting 56 Russian aircraft on 21 sorties over a four-month period. Previous RAF contributions to the mission have included deployments to Lithuania in 2014 and Estonia in 2016. Britain has also supported NATO Southern Air Policing in Romania in 2018, NATO Icelandic Air Policing last year and currently some 800 British Army personnel are deployed to Estonia as part of the NATO enhanced Forward Presence battlegroup.