Polish pilots begin protecting Baltic countries' airspace at Estonian airbase
TALLINN. Jan 2 (Interfax) - The Polish Air Force group of pilots started protecting airspace of the Baltic countries at the Amari airbase in Estonia for the first time on Thursday, the press service of the Estonian Defense Forces told Interfax.
Polish servicemen will replace pilots from the Czech contingent. Chief of the General Staff of the Defense Forces Brigadier Gen. Veiko-Vello Palm awarded Czech pilots with medals for defending the Baltic airspace at a solemn ceremony of rotating aerial missions.
Polish pilots arrived from the 32nd tactical airbase in Laski and will carry out their mission by F-16 fighter jets.
"Today is more than remarkable. Firstly, this is because it is the first time Czech servicemen joined the mission of protecting airspace. Secondly, it is also the first time Polish servicemen began pursuing the same mission," Permanent Secretary of the Defense Ministry Kristjan Prikk said at the ceremony.
"The participation of the Czech and Polish Air Forces in ensuring the strength of the Baltic airspace displays the commitment and solidarity of the allies and builds up the deterrence not only in the Baltic Sea Region, but also in all of the NATO member states," he said.
The Air Forces of the NATO countries have been protecting on a rotational basis airspace of the Baltic countries, which do not have their own fighter aviation, since March 29, 2004, when Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia joined the alliance. The 2012 NATO summit indefinitely extended the mission in the Baltic countries.
The second unit for aerial protection of the Baltic countries is stationed at the Siauliai airbase in Lithuania, where the Belgian Air Force continues its mission.
Poland has earlier taken part in NATO missions eight times, while based at the Siauliai airbase.