Allies aiming to fill Baltic skies with fighters

Evelyn Kaldoja
, Varssavi
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Considering how many planes the Baltic airspace could hold, and how many fighters have been offered by NATO allies – in light of recent events – to secure Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian skies, we are nearing saturation, says Commander of the Estonian Defence Forces, Major-General Riho Terras.

According to Maj. Gen. Terras, allies in Europe do have fighters to spare. Sending these is just the matter of political will. Now, the alarm-bells a-ringing, fighters are being offered not by USA alone (as currently in charge of securing Baltic airspace and recently doubling its amount of planes) but by other allies as well. 

«In my opinion it is important also to underline that from the moment we asked [the Americans for extra fighters] to the moment the planes arrived, it took three days and 20 hours,» stressed Maj. Gen. Terras. «We are proud of it and we say that NATO is in good working condition.»

According to outgoing defence minister Urmas Reinsalu, the extra planes send an important message. «That the UK, USA, and other NATO members have expressed readiness to invest more isn’t just technical adherence to protecting the airspace; rather, this is a sign that our partners in NATO stand with our region and, by their presence, desire to send the signal that NATO collective defence capability is alive and well,» said he.

Considering that the capacity of Zokniai, the current air defence missions base, is quite limited, one might assume that the Lithuanians who up to now have clung to all available fighters would at long last agree to send some to Ämari, Estonia. 

Asked if that might happen anytime soon, Maj. Gen. Terras said that even though Ämari should officially be in full readiness starting January 1st, Estonian air forces could host the allies even today. «So I’m not worried about Ämari air base not being used pretty soon,» smiled the man.

According to Mr Reinsalu, Estonia is definitely interested in air defence deterrence being distributed more evenly between the Baltic States, meaning that Ämari would now also be participating as host of air defence. «As for the practicalities of it – well this needs to be discussed with the countries to participate. We will also be thinking it through with Lithuanian and NATO military planners,» said he. «Obviously, however, deterrence is more effective when spread out over the entire region.»

Maj. Gen. Terras underlined that extra fighters is just one step. «There are the short-term measures, and there are the long-term measures. Short-term, bringing in the planes was the clearest and most visible [of measures],» said the Commander. The next steps, such as sending the rotating infantry and navy units promised by US Vice President Joe Biden in Warsaw, yesterday, will be discussed in near future.