On January 4 shifts of air contingents performing the Baltic Air-policing mission will change at a ceremony held at the Air Base of the Lithuanian Air Force (Šiauliai). German Air Contingent will be replaced by a French unit with four „Mirage-2000" fighter-jets.
French unit will take responsibility for the mission for a second time (after 2007). The current shift comprises around 150 military the majority of which serve with the French Air Force BA 103 Cambrai air base (north of the country).
The rotation ceremony will be attended by Commander Lithuanian Air Force Brig. Gen. Artūras Leita, Commanding Officer of French Air Defense and Air Operations Command Lt. Gen. Gilles Desclaux, Commander German Air Force Air Operations Command Lt. Gen. Friedrich Wilhelm Ploeger, Senior Advisor to the Ministry of National Defence Andrius Krivas, Commander of Air Base Šiauliai Lt. Col. Audronis Navickas, Ambassadors of France to the Baltic States, Ambassador of Germany to the Baltic States, representatives of armed forces of other states and other guests.
NATO member states began sending their air assets and crews to the Baltic Air-policing mission in 2004 when Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia entered NATO.
Since then Belgian, Danish, British, Norwegian, Dutch, German, American, and Polish contingents ensured security of airspace above the Baltic States for three months each. Since spring 2006 Turkish, Spanish, Belgian, and French troops were deployed on the mission for four-month rotation cycle, Romanian Air Contingent were in charge of the mission for three months, Portuguese Air Contingent - for a month and a half, troops of Norway, Poland, Germany and the USA - for three months, Danes, Czechs and the leaving Germans, the incoming French Air Contingent will also follow the four-month pattern.
This year a decision was adopted by NATO to prolong the mission to the end of 2014.
Picture: fighters „Phantom" of the German Air Contingent. (by NCO Alvydas Tamošiūnas).