|Operation Baltic Air Policing|
On 1 July 2004, Belgium concluded the three month operation "Baltic Air Policing" at the Lithuanian airbase of Zokniai near Siauliai.
On 26 March 2004 the Belgian Council of Ministers had agreed to fulfil the request by NATO to organise a "Quick Reaction Alert" (QRA) at Lithuania in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic states Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. After becoming full NATO member states, the three countries, still fearing their very powerful neighbour Russia while not being equipped with the means to defend their own airspace, had turned to the alliance requesting a credible air-defence. NATO has elaborated a temporarily (but long-term) solution by deploying a small number of modern fighters to the Baltic States. Belgium was the first country to accept the mission and in an incredible short notice of less than a week, personnel of Kleine Brogel airbase managed to organise and successfully deploy to the Lithuanian airbase of Zokniai near Siauliai, four F-16AM's to insure a QRA. (aircraft in the air under 15 minutes after an alert). Such an alert can consist of helping an aircraft (civilian or military) with technical problems or even to intercept and shoot down on order of the allied authorities any intruder who does not react on warnings. The Lithuanian Air Force Commander, Colonel Edvardas Mazeikis stressed that is was "important for the Balts to feel that they became real NATO members".
During their three months stay, the four Belgian Lockheed F-16AM fighters and their 50 man of personnel have been "on alert" 24h a day and 7 days a week from the Zokniai airbase (Northern Lithuania). Out of the 100 missions flown the Belgians have experienced one "Alpha Scramble" (real alert take-off to intercept an intruder) when on 2 June a Russian aircraft was reported approaching the guarded airspace. (surely testing out the efficiency of NATO QRA)
General Audrit, Commander of Comopsair, during his speech at Siauliai.
A brief ceremony organised at Zokniai AB at exactly 11h00 local time, the Belgian detachment was relieved by a new Danish deployment (also consisting of four F-16AM) fighters which will continue the policing work for three more months. Rumours persist that the Luftwaffe with F-4F Phantoms of JG-71 would be the next in line to guard the Baltic skies. In his speech, Colonel Mazeikishas expressed his gratitude towards Belgium for having been able to organise this complicated mission on extremely short notice and accomplishing it very successfully. General Michel Audrit, commander of the Air Component of the Belgian Defence forces has declared that it is not excluded that Belgium might return for a second tour of duty guarding the airspace over the three Baltic States Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.
Belgian F-16AM on QRA duty at Zokniai AB in Lithuania.
A Danish Air Force F-16AM with an Afghan connection taking over from the Belgians.
|The Lithuanian Air Force (Karines Oro Pajegos) at Siauliai AB|
Most potent equipment of the Lithuanian Air Force consist of two L-39ZA Albatrosses (4 others are in storage), both based at Siauliai.
The transport element of the Lithuanian Air Force consist of three Antonov An-26B twin turbine aircraft ("04" c/n 101 01 shown), 13 Antonov An-2 vintage biplanes and 2 Let L-410T passenger aircraft.
Still very much operational are the Antonov An-2 biplanes.
This Sukhoi Su-7 guarding the main entrance at Siauliai reminds us that this was once the most important airbase operated by the Russians outside of the motherland. Around 1990, the base housed MiG-29 fighters, different transport aircraft and a detachment of A-50 "Mainstay" aircraft (the AWACS development of the Il-76 "Candid"). Due to this presence, the city of Siauliai was a "closed town", where inhabitants could not freely travel and nobody could visit them except for a once a year meeting on a specified area.
Text and picturs by
Last updated 03/04/07 16:15 by Daniel Brackx