Belgian Air Force to end NATO duty in the Baltics; Army and Navy remain
Belgian F-16s finish an eight-month deployment in Estonia, informed NATO this Wednesday, 20 July. At the request of the Atlantic Alliance, Belgian F-16s have carried out scheduled patrols in key areas of Baltic airspace and this duty ends on August 1.
The nature of the Belgian mission has changed significantly due to the Ukrainian crisis, moving in early April from "reinforced" air defense of the airspace of the Baltic countries (in jargon "Enhanced Air Policing Mission (EAPM)" to "enhanced Vigilance Activities", eVA) under the command of NATO.
"We look back on a very successful time safeguarding the skies in the Baltic Region," said Major (aviator) Nicolas Maes, Commander of the Belgian F-16 detachment at Ämari. "Success in two ways: for our pilots and support staff this has been a terrific experience in Allied interoperability, and the Belgian Air Force team has demonstrated their flexibility and professionalism," he added.
The Belgian eVA detachment consists of 72 people in 24 different positions. In order to operate four F-16s, the expertise of 45 technicians is needed on site.
On the other hand, the Belgian Defense minister Ludivine Dedonder (PS) said on Tuesday that the Belgian F-16s "will most likely have to redeploy (to Estonia) during the year", if the need arises.
"This remains a studied possibility, which still has to seek confirmation and agreement from the Council of Ministers. But given the current context, there will probably be a request for reinforcement from NATO in this direction," she declared to the newspaper "La Libre Belgique".
Army and Navy
The Belgian Navy, for its part, almost permanently assigns one of its tripartite minehunters (CMT) to one of NATO's permanent flotillas, the SNMCMG1 (Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1) sailing in the Baltic Sea. The next will be the M923 Narcis, which will take over from the M921 Lobelia and M924 Primula, with each time a crew of 44 sailors.
The Belgian Army will remain engaged on the eastern flank of NATO, with the dispatch of a detachment of engineers in Romania and, soon, a company of "Chasseurs ardennais" (Belgian elite infantry formation) in Lithuania.
Besides, the Belgian government gave its agreement at the beginning of July to the dispatch of an engineering detachment which will be responsible for building, in collaboration with French and Dutch soldiers, more housing blocks for the NATO troops stationed in Cincu (center of Romania), on the proposal of Dedonder.
© BELGA PHOTO (BENOIT DOPPAGNE)