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Hungary will lead NATO's Baltic Air Policing next month

By Allen Cone
Hungary will lead NATO's Baltic Air Policing next month
A U.S. Air Force ‪‎B-52‬ Stratofortress leads a formation of aircraft, including two Polish air force ‪‎F-16‬ Fighting Falcons, four U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons, two German ‪‎Eurofighter‬ ‎Typhoons‬ and four ‪‎Swedish‬ ‎Gripens‬ over the Baltic Sea, on June 9, 2016. Photo by Senior Airman Erin Babis/U.S. Air Force | License Photo

April 18 (UPI) -- Hungary will lead NATO's Baltic Air Policing mission beginning next month at Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania with assistance by Britain and Spain.

This will be the 50th Baltic Air Policing deployment, NATO said in a news release Wednesday.

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NATO member countries have taken turns safeguarding Baltic airspace since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined the alliance in 2004. Other participants are United States, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Turkey.

The Baltic nations were under Soviet Union rule from from the end of World War II in 1945 until independence in 1991.

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Hungary will use the JAS-39 Gripen fighter aircraft during the mission. Spain will augment the mission with F-18s at Šiauliai, and the United Kingdom will deploy Eurofighter aircraft to Amari Air Base in Estonia.

In 2015, Hungary also deployed their Gripen fighters and an air force detachment to lead the mission.

Spain has deployed six times under the mission, including twice as lead nation in 2006 and 2016, and three times as augmenting nation at Amari in 2015, 2017 and 2018.

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Britain was the third nation to lead the mission in 2004 and have since augmented once in Siauliai in 2014 and twice in Amari in 2015 and 2016.

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"The two additional detachments deployed to the region in the next four months demonstrate collective resolve and deter any threat against NATO allies," NATO said in a news release.

NATO Baltic Air Policing is a peacetime defensive mission that joins NATO Allies together to protect each other, "setting a spirit of solidarity within the alliance."

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In 2014, NATO authorized additional fighter detachments to deploy to the region in response to Russia's "illegal actions" in Ukraine.

During the 2014 Crimean crisis, the U.S. Air Force deployed six F-15C Eagle fighter jets from Lakenheath air base in eastern England to the Lithuanian Air Force Base near Šiauliai. Poland hosts 10 U.S Air Force personnel to support rotations of the jets for joint training with the Polish air force.

Allied Air Command, with its Combined Air Operations Center at Uedem, Germany, can employ more flexibility providing an air policing capability to safeguard NATO airspace in the Baltic Region, NATO said.

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