Nato has temporarily deployed Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) surveillance planes to Šiauliai, Lithuania, with the first of two aircraft arriving on 28 September, to perform missions to monitor Russian military activity near the Alliance’s borders.
According to a Nato release, the Alliance boosted its air presence in the eastern areas of the bloc’s territory with additional fighters, surveillance aircraft, and airborn refuelling tankers in response to Russia’s “war of aggression” against Ukraine.
“Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine has increased our focus on the security environment in the Baltic Sea region,” said acting Nato spokesperson Dylan White. “Our AWACS can detect aircraft and missiles hundreds of kilometres away, making them a key early warning capability for [the Alliance].”
In the wake of recent Russian drone strikes near Nato territory, the US deployed four additional F-16 fighter aircraft to Romania to enhance Nato’s air policing mission. Since February 2022, Nato AWACS have conducted hundreds of flights over eastern Europe to monitor Russian aircraft.
The additional AWACS will start their reconnaissance flights over Alliance territory in the coming days, with the mission scheduled to last “several weeks”.
The aircraft belong to a fleet of 14 Nato-owned surveillance aircraft based in Geilenkirchen, Germany. Around 150 military personnel will deploy to Šiauliai in support of the aircraft.
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Since the Baltic States joined Nato on 29 March 2004, the air forces of Nato member states have been policing the skies over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on a rotational basis.
Nato’s air policing of the Baltic region is set to move from Estonia to Latvia and Lithuania during 2024, as Ämari Air Base in Estonia undergoes reconstruction, with the Latvian air base of Lielvārde due to host Nato fighters during the spring to autumn period in 2024. Allied fighters are already deployed to the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania to ensure air security.