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NATO Air Policing

Air Policing is one of the key aspects of common security and defence for the Alliance. Preserving the integrity of NATO airspace is a collective task where NATO Joint Force Command Brunssum contributes with Baltic Air Policing as one of its Enduring Tasks. For member nations not having the full range of Air Defence (AD) assets in their own militaries, like Luxembourg, Iceland, Slovenia and Baltic States, agreements exist to ensure a single standard of security within NATO's Area of Responsibility.

The objective of the Air Policing, AP, focus area is to ensure the security and territorial integrity of member nations within the Area of Functional Responsibility, AOFR through effective Air Policing. NATO Military Committee document MC 54/1 stipulates that The Supreme Allied Commander Europe, SACEUR:s air defence mission in peacetime is to preserve the integrity of NATO European airspace and to safeguard NATO nations from air attack. Air Defence, AD, to include the functions of Air Surveillance and AP, is a key element in maintaining the security of nations.

In peacetime, NATO Air Defence forces adopt a continuous, 24/7, Air Policing posture as a measure to preserve the integrity of Alliance Airspace. This posture uses appropriate Air Defence assets to provide a capability to respond to potential air threats by the identification of unknown airborne objects detected by the Air Surveillance system as well as to take appropriate follow-on measures if required.

In peacetime, designated Air Surveillance and Control System, ASACS units maintain continuous surveillance of NATO airspace and air approaches to NATO:s area of responsibility to gain, assess and disseminate early warning information. They render navigational assistance, if requested, to military and civilian aircraft to include warning of other air traffic, and they assist aircraft with in-flight emergencies, for example the loss of communication, in coordination with appropriate civil Air Traffic Control, ATC. Designated Air Defence units provide fighter aircraft for the Quick Reaction Alert Force, QRA Force. These fighter aircraft can be launched immediately to intercept, interrogate and identify unknown airborne objects detected by the Air Surveillance and Control System.

In the 1970s, NATO nations participating in the military structure realised that national air defence systems operating independently could not effectively protect NATO airspace. Combining national assets supplemented as necessary by NATO elements, an integrated air defence structure and system was organised under the command and control of SACEUR. With the accession of new member states, some of which lack the organic air surveillance and defence capabilities to assure the required NATO standards, NATO has taken collective action to fill the gap. On 8 February 2012, the North Atlantic Council agreed to further authorize NATO Air Policing in the Baltic States with a clause of periodic reevaluation starting at the end of 2018.

To ensure the air space integrity of the NATO members Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, and due to the lack of own capabilities NATO has decided to establish a Quick Reaction Alert, QRA base in Lithuania, Siauliai Air Base and to rotate an Air QRA between nations. In case of the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Alliance rotates Air Policing capabilities to accomplish the task. The Baltic Air Policing mission, executed by NATO nations, started in April 2004 and has been executed continuously ever since. So far, 14 NATO nations have participated in this mission. The 2008 endeavor designed to provide complex air policing training has since evolved with a broader scope emphasizing a wide spectrum of air operations over Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, deployed from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, assumed command of the NATO Baltic air policing mission 01 September 2010 from the Polish air force at Lithuania Air Force Air Base. For the next four months, the squadron, comprising approximately 125 people, is responsible for ensuring the air sovereignty of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This was the third time since 2004 the U.S. Air Force has accomplished this mission and the second time the 493rd EFS has had responsibility.

The 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, United Kingdom, relinquished command of the NATO Baltic air policing mission to the German air force at Lithuania Air Force Air Base 05 January 2011. During their deployment, the 493rd EFS accomplished 66 training sorties and two real-world sorties identifying three unknown aircraft.

At the Chicago Summit 2012, NATO decided to extend its commitment to protect the Baltic airspace. The agreement is an example of Smart Defence, demonstrating how the Alliance can balance its political and military needs in an economically efficient way. Headquartres Allied Air Command Ramstein is designated to HQ JFC Brunssum and the Air Advisor to the Commander JFC Brunssum in matters of the Baltic Air Policing.




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