Polish Vipers deploy to Lithuania.
Polish Air Force has just deployed four F-16 jets to Siauliai, Lithuania, to participate in the NATO Baltic Air Policing. Poland acts as the lead nation over the course of this rotation and it has taken over the duties from the Belgian Air Component working together with Germany (augmenting nation), with the Luftwaffe having its jets stationed at the Estonian Ämari Air Base.
Over the course of 2018 the NATO BAP assets were scrambled more than a hundred times.
Poland has been deeply involved in the Baltic Air Policing initiative since 2006. However, during most of the rotations the Polish Air Force deployed its MiG-29 jets to Siauliai. The deployment of the F-16s is a major shift here, with a dual meaning: first, since the MiG-29 is soon going to be phased out (the airframe has been in Polish service for nearly 3 decades now), it is a logical step to give the Viper drivers a chance to work in the Lithuanian airspace. Secondly, this would also provide the F-16 pilots with relevant, real life QRA duty experience, probably allowing the service to refine its approach towards such operations, should they involve the F-16 more often in the future.
This time Poland is sending 140 troops along with the F-16 jets to work within the framework of the mission. The rotation is to end in mid-May.
Previous rotation involving the Polish assets took place from May 2017 until August 2017 (F-16Cs). Back then, the Polish F-16 intercepted Il-20M SIGINT/IMINT platform on May 15 and governmental Tu-154M with head of the Russian MoD onboard on Jun. 21, 2017.
As Polskie Radio reports, the Polish Air Force has been scheduled already to protect the Baltic Airspace in 2020. Notably, this is the 8th time that sees Poland providing support, within the scope of the QRA duties in the Baltic area, as noted by the Lithuanian MoD.
The nature of the BAP initiative that we’ve frequently covered in the past assumes that NATO provides the Baltic states with fighter assets, since the states in the region have no sufficient military aviation potential at their disposal to maintain their own QRA duty.