Nato allied air policing of the Baltic region is set to move from Estonia to Latvia and Lithuania during 2024, as Ämari Air Base undergoes reconstruction.
The reconstruction of the base will result in the temporary relocation of allied air policing to Latvia, in a move that reflects Nato’s operational flexibility in the region, according to Tristan Sauer, defence and aerospace analyst for GlobalData.
Following the completion of the reconstruction efforts, the allied fighter jets are set to make their return to Estonia. Ämari Air Base is set to launch its inaugural post-reconstruction air policing mission at the start of 2025.
Sauer went on to suggest that while the fighter jets will only be based in the other Baltic countries through to 2025, the footprint left by Nato may be lasting: “The temporary shifting of operations to Latvia and Lithuania provides Nato forces with an opportunity to stress-test their capacity for interoperability in novel locations and could provide the impetus for the creation of additional Nato facilities within these counties over the next decade.”
Since the Baltic States joined Nato on March 29, 2004, the allied air forces of Nato member states have been policing the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on a rotational basis. With the eruption of the conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent decline of security in Eastern Europe, the significance of upholding a noticeable and dependable deterrent force in the area has become increasingly evident.
“Following the outbreak of the war in Ukraine and the subsequent deterioration of security in Eastern Europe, the importance of maintaining a visible and reliable deterrence force in the region has never been more apparent,” said Sauer.
The significance of keeping a visible and dependable deterrent force in the area has never been more clear since the commencement of the conflict in Ukraine and the consequent worsening of security in Eastern Europe, and at a meeting of the defence ministers for Estonia and Latvia on 21 May to discuss the joint purchase of German mid-range air defence systems, the two allies were enthusiastic for the defence cooperation being demonstrated.
“Baltic defence cooperation really has strong wind under its wings. I am glad that Latvia is ready to temporarily host Nato Air Policing from the Lielvārde Air base during the Ämari reconstruction, in close cooperation with our two countries,” said Estonia’s Minister of Defence, Hanno Pevkur, during the meeting with the Minister of Defence for Latvia Ināra Mūrniece on Sunday.
Latvia’s Minister of Defence, Ināra Mūrniece, said the Baltic States have formed a strong alliance to enhance regional security.
The renovation of the Ämari Air Base’s air traffic surfaces and technical systems is necessary because the base has been under heavy usage since 2014. “The upcoming reconstruction of Ämari Air Base highlights the strategic importance of these facilities within Nato’s current and future air policing missions, as air patrols are expected to resume from 2025.” Said Sauer.
Air policing mission rotations are set to shift from Ämari to the Latvian Air Base Lielvārde during the spring to autumn period in the year 2024. Allied fighter jets have been deployed to the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania to ensure air security, according to a Nato release.
“The Russian war in Ukraine has clearly demonstrated the importance of air defence. A good infrastructure is the prerequisite for cooperation with allies and hosting their air defence systems,” said Minister Pevkur.