Belgian F-16s intercept 8 Russian planes: 'Nothing to worry about', defence chief says
Belgian F-16 fighter jets, which have been monitoring Baltic airspace from Lithuania since 1 December, intercepted eight Russian military aircraft in the past week. This was announced on Tuesday during Defence minister Dedonder's Christmas visit to the Belgian military in Lithuania. Despite the seemingly high number of interceptions, military leadership says there is no cause for concern.
Dedonder's two-day mission ended on Monday with a visit to the air base in Šiauliai, where 74 Belgian military personnel have been stationed for almost three weeks. Four Belgian F-16 fighter jets are also deployed for air defence.
During the first days of the military's deployment, there were no interceptions. Last week, however, fighter pilots intercepted eight Russian aircraft during three missions, a defence spokesperson told Belga. Each of these interceptions involved a plane flying in international airspace without having submitted a flight plan beforehand.
Eight interceptions is "nothing to worry about", said the Belgian Chief of Defence, Admiral Michel Hofman. "The number of interceptions has been stable for some time and there have been no major incidents. But it is very important that we are here."
"The number of interceptions has been stable for some time and there have been no major incidents. But it is very important that we are here."
This is the 13th time since 2004 that NATO has called on the Belgian Air Force to monitor the airspace of the Baltic States over a period of several months. The last time was in October-November 2022 from Estonia. The Baltic states themselves have no combat aircraft. In 2014, the mission was reinforced with additional measures following Russia's annexation of Crimea. A second reinforcement of the mission took place after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Belgian F-16s in Šiauliai, Lithuania © BELGA PHOTO / VIDEO MAARTEN WEYNANTS