Providing a Clear Message

Despite its expansion over the last year, a senior NATO official told Air Force Magazine it is important to distinguish the Baltic Air Policing mission from air and missile defense activity. “Air policing is a peace time task for surveillance of airspace,” German Air Force Maj. Gen. Erich Siegmann, NATO Air Command chief of staff, said in a June interview in Brussels. “Air defense is something entirely different,” he said, noting NATO’s air policing forces cannot engage aircraft unless they revert back to national command. NATO’s current BAP aircraft fly from bases in Lithuania, Estonia, and Poland to identify and intercept aircraft that are not adhering to international fight rules. The four Quick Reaction Alert detachments at these bases give the mission “more responsiveness” across the Baltics, Siegmann noted. NATO also has dispatched additional fighter aircraft to Romania and Bulgaria to assist with air policing activities. These countries have their own aircraft, but per guidance from Supreme Allied Commander Europe USAF Gen. Philip Breedlove, the Alliance looked to increase its presence in the South and East of its borders to provide assurance for its members. In addition to fighter aircraft flying intercepts, NATO can also call on its E-3 AWACS fleet in order to provide better air traffic coverage and to collaborate in air-to-air training activities. Taken together, these activities “provide a clear message what our abilities are, both inside our NATO countries and outside [the Alliance],” he added.