Belgian F-16 fighter planes on Tuesday conducted their first interception of an unidentified aircraft above the Baltic Sea just hours after returning to the area, Belgium’s Defence Ministry disclosed in a press release on Wednesday. “Just a few hours after the resumption of the Baltic Air Policing Mission yesterday, the Belgian F-16s entered into action,” the Ministry said. “The planes, which are stationed at the Amari Air Base in Estonia, took off yesterday for an interception above the Baltic Sea.”
A Belgian unit made up of four F16s has been deployed since the 5th of September in NATO’s Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission, officially taking over from a Spanish unit at a ceremony on Monday. Their mission, carried out around the clock, is to ensure the integrity of NATO’s airspace.
“At any time of the day, two F-16s stand ready to take off in less than fifteen minutes to intercept and escort unidentified aircraft that risk flying over the Baltic States,” the Ministry said in its press release. “These aircraft are first identified, then escorted until they are no longer in [Nato] airspace.”
This is the seventh BAP rotation for Belgian’s fighters, according to the press release, which stated that the previous one ended in April 2016.
The BAP mission is aimed at reassuring the Baltic states with regard to their neighbour and former occupier, Russia.
Russian planes generally conduct transit flights between mainland Russia and the enclave of Kaliningrad, a region viewed as extremely militarized and located between Poland and Lithuania. These planes sometimes do not submit their flight plans and/or turn on their transponders, an electronic device that makes it possible to identify a plane in mid-flight.