Norwegian F16 fighter jets will start flying over the Baltic next month and through the summer, to help NATO with routine patrols of the airspace over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The move comes at a time when neighbouring Russia has been flexing its military muscle in the area.
All three Baltic countries have been members of NATO for more than 10 years. Norwegian Broadcastng (NRK) reported that they don’t have the capacity needed to control their own airspace themselves, so other NATO members will take turns helping out.
“We’ll go up in the air when NATO discovers aircraft over the Baltics that they don’t know enough about,” Major Ivar Magne Stene of the Norwegian Air Force told NRK. He is one of three Norwegian officers who will lead Norway’s NATO assignment in the Baltic that’s part of NATO’s “Quick Reaction Alert” preparedness program.
Stene claimed the assignment is an example of “solid NATO cooperation” in practice. “The alliance is there when needed, and we’ll do our share for it,” he said.
Four Norwegian F16s will be sent from the Ørland military air station just northwest of Trondheim. Stene said the NATO forces are prepared to encounter Russian aircraft: “Russian jets are those that mostly are met and reported on.” There’s also been a major increase in Russian military aircraft flying in the Arctic, along the coast of Norway and as far south as the UK in recent years.
Norway’s participation in the NATO operation will run through August. The Norwegian Air Force will also send three liaison officers to a military station at Karmelava in Lithuania. “We’re proud to be able to contribute to Baltic Air Policing and the NATO cooperation,” General Major Per-Egil Rygg of the Norwegian Air Force told the military’s own website forsvaret.no. Around 70 military personnel will be directly involved in the operation.