June 13, 2016
Poland and Baltic States Explore Anti-Aircraft Shield
By Financial Times and Reuters
“We are in discussions now with the Estonians, the Latvians and the Poles over how we can create some kind of regional air defence system,” Lithuanian defence minister Juozas Olekas told the Financial Times on Friday. It is hoped the system will be operational within two or three years. The quartet of countries is “evaluating procurement options”, Mr Olekas said....
Estonia’s defence chief Lieutenant-General Riho Terras told the Financial Times last month that US patriot missiles — or a similar system — were urgently needed to give regional forces a “credible” chance against Russia, and to deter any provocative action by the Kremlin....
The Baltic states are also lobbying for Nato to recalibrate its Baltic air policing mission. They want a fully-fledged aerial defence mission, which would require the deployment of dozens of Nato jets.
“We are discussing very actively with SACEUR [Nato’s supreme allied commander] how to create an air defence system over the Baltic states — not only anti aircraft rockets but an air defence mission here, too,” said Lieutenant-General Vytautas Zukas, Lithuanian chief of defence. “This is a big problem right now.”
“We need to count how many aeroplanes we need, how many anti-aircraft rockets and which systems. We need to think about an air-based component, a ground-based component, having more fighters, having new rules of engagement, and command and control.”
From Robin Emmott and Andrius Sytas, Reuters: The Baltics want NATO fighters to protect their skies and are seeking medium-range missile interceptors from Norway's Kongsberg Gruppen and U.S. defense contractor Raytheon.
"We need to stop possible air aggression," said Olekas. "We are discussing creating a regional medium-range air defense system together with the Latvians, the Estonians and the Poles."
Olekas expects to raise the matter with NATO colleagues at the ministers' meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Brussels.
The head of the Estonian defense force Lieutenant General Riho Terras said: "The first and foremost is the defense of our airspace. Air defense is the challenge that needs to solved together with the NATO alliance."
"We are not talking about defense of Lithuania, we are talking about the credibility of the whole alliance," said Lithuania's Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius.
But such calls would require stretched NATO governments to beef up the so-called air policing mission that regularly intercepts Russian jets flying over international waters close to the Baltic states.
The Baltic nations rely on their NATO allies' quick reaction aircraft to patrol their skies, with no mandate to confront hostile aircraft in a conflict.
Four British Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets and four Portuguese F-16 fighter jets are currently carrying out the air policing mission. Officials say a lot more would be needed for air defense.