August 31, rotation ceremony of air contingents of the allies deployed on the Baltic Air-policing mission took place in Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base (Šiauliai). After four months of duty Czech Air Contingent with four JAS-39 „Gripen" jets was replaced by German troops. For the two first months Baltic airspace will be guarded with four fourth generation „Eurofighter" jets to be deployed beyond Germany's territory in a multinational mission for the first time. Later F-4F „Phantom" will take their place. According to Commander of the first shift of German Air Contingent Lt. Col. Marco Griene, „Eurofighter" is one of the leading military aircraft in Europe equipped with cutting-edge information distribution system.
Vice Minister of National Defence Vytautas Umbrasas, Commander Lithuanian Air Force Brig. Gen. Artūras Leita, acting Head of LAF Aviation Base Lt. Col. Virginijus Steponavičius Deputy Defence Minister of the Czech Republic Jan Fulík, Deputy Chief of Staff of Czech Armed Forces Maj. Gen. Jiří Halaška and Commander Czech Air Force Brig. Gen. Jiří Verner, Undersecretary of Defence Ministry of Estonia Riho Terras, and Commander Estonian Air Force Brig. Gen. Valeri Saar, State Secretary of Defence Ministry of Latvia Jānis Sārts, and Commander Latvian Air Force Lt. Col. Aleksandrs Stepanovs, State Secretary of Defence Ministry of Germany Rüdiger Wolf and Commander German Air Force Lt. Gen. Klaus-Peter Stieglitz, Czech and German Ambassadors and Defence Attachés accredited in Lithuania, and other were present during the changeover ceremony held in the Aviation Base.
During the ceremony Vice Minister of National Defence Vytautas Umbrasas thanked leaving Czech soldiers and welcomed Germans coming to protect Baltic airspace for a third time. In his speech V.Umbrasas highlighted that air-policing mission is one of the best examples of solidarity among the allies valuable both in political and practical terms. "To start with, it demonstrates the principle of collective responsibility - keystone of the Alliance. And then, the mission is beneficial to improvement of security situation in our region. Thirdly, it allows Baltic States to concentrate limited national resources for participation international operations and reforms of national armed forces."
In his turn State Secretary Rüdiger Wolf representing German Ministry of Defence noted that Germany always did and would continue supporting the mission.
Commander of the leaving Czech Air Contingent Maj. Jaroslav Míka said in his goodbye address that patrallong Baltic airspace gave valuable experience for his troops because they had never patrolled and were in charge of security of such a large airspace before. According to Maj. J. Míkos, the mission gave soldiers skills of patrolling and flight above the sea.
Security for Baltic airspace will be provided by Germany for the third time. Germans conducted the mission on July-September 2005 and July-August 2008, with F-4F „Phantom" jets both times. The third shift of German Air Contingent will include 130 soldiers, mostly members of Fighter Wing 74 of German Air Force (deployed in Neuburg on the Danube). Troops in the Contingent will rotate every two to three weeks and commander - every six weeks.
Since 2004 when NATO members began sending their air assets and crews to the Baltic Air-policing mission, 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 and the currently leaving Czechs - for four months, the shift period also to be taken up by Germans.
Pictures of MoND Public Relations Department