The Italian Air Force has taken over the responsibility of the Nato Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission from the Portuguese Air Force in a ceremony held at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania.

Since September 2014, four Portuguese F-16 aircraft, along with four Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 fighters, policed the skies over Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The Nato aircraft conducted nearly 70 intercepts over the Baltic Sea, with support from the German Eurofighter Typhoons based out of Ämari Air Base, Estonia, and the Dutch F-16 fighters out of Malbork, Poland.

Portuguese Detachment commander lieutenant colonel Francisco Dionisio said: "We achieved a clear ‘mission accomplished’ here at Šiauliai.

"More than 300 flight hours safely performed in more than 150 sorties, plus an added value from training performed with local and deployed forces show Nato’s greatest strength, which is joint air operations in a safe and efficient way."

Italian Detachment commander colonel Marco Bertoli said: "The Baltic Air Policing mission is very important for my air force.

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"Italy is now the first ally to participate in all of Nato’s Interim Air Policing activities conducted over Albania, Slovenia and Iceland and, of course, over the three Baltic States."

"This collective effort is a good example demonstrating alliance solidarity and commitment to provide the same standards of security to all its members."

Italy, which has deployed four Typhoon fighters for the assignment, is participating in the Nato mission for the first time since it started 2004 when Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined the alliance.

To complete the 37th rotation, Spanish Typhoons already arrived in Estonia to take over from the German Eurofighters, while the Polish Air Force also deployed its MiG-29 fighter aircraft to Šiauliai airbase.

Meanwhile, Belgian F-16s are scheduled to arrive at Malbork, Poland later this month to replace the Dutch F-16s for the mission that will last until the end of April.

BAP is a Nato air defence quick reaction alert mission aimed at protecting the airspace over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which lack the means to provide air policing of their territory.

Lithuanian Air Force commander colonel Audronis Navickas said: "For a decade, Nato’s Baltic Air Policing Mission has been more than security assurance to the Baltic States.

"This collective effort is a good example demonstrating alliance solidarity and commitment to provide the same standards of security to all its members."

Image: The Canadian CF-188 Hornets parked at Siauliai Air Base, Lithuania. Photo: courtesy of Air Task Force, OP Reassurance, DND.