Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia becomes third NATO Air Policing base in the Baltics

On Friday, March 1, the Lielvarde military airfield in Latvia became the third NATO base where allied fighters conducting the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania will be stationed. The Lielvarde base became the new location for NATO fighters as the Ämari Air Base in Estonia is undergoing repairs.

During a ceremony held on Saturday, attended by representatives from Latvia, Canada, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Spain, the United States and NATO, the base officially took on the role of NATO’s regional air policing service. Due to the runway and infrastructure work at Ämari Air Base, which will continue until the end of the year, Latvia, in close cooperation with Estonia and Germany, established the structural conditions in Lielvarde for 24/7 NATO rapid response readiness. The mission will be carried out by a German Eurofighter unit until November, as announced by the NATO press service.

An inspection team from NATO’s Combined Air Operations Centre (CAOC) in Uedem, Germany, responsible for overseeing alliance air policing across Northern Europe, officially confirmed that the command and control process in Lielvarde meets the required level from the first alert through to takeoff and mission completion report.

“This is a memorable day for Latvia and NATO. For the first time, NATO air policing activities are being conducted from Lielvarde airbase,” said Latvian Defense Minister Andris Spruds. “We are grateful to all allies who have contributed their forces to the mission of protecting NATO airspace and our people. The air domain is crucial for the deterrence and defense activities of the allies. The ability to carry out the mission from multiple locations clearly shows that NATO’s integrated air and missile defense is quick and reliable in protecting our airspace,” he added.

“For almost 20 years – since the accession of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania to NATO in 2004 – the Baltic states have been part of collective defense, and this mission has now reached Lielvarde, meaning NATO has three operational bases, one in each Baltic ally,” said CAOC Uedem Commander, Maj. Gen. Harold van Pee. “Both Latvia and Germany have done outstanding work in timely preparing the airbase for the arrival of the fighters, as evidenced yesterday when the German unit was able to conduct its first scramble just a few hours after its official status.” he added, referring to the first German takeoff from Lielvarde to intercept Russian military aircraft over the Baltic Sea.

Col. Viesturs Masulis, the chief of the Latvian Air Force, who attended the ceremony, stated that the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission plays a crucial role in deterring potential threats, protecting the integrity of the airspace and promoting stability in the region.

The introduction of the Lielvarde airbase allows NATO to continue operating from two air bases for regional air policing. Meanwhile, a German deployable control and reporting center will be stationed at Ämari Air Base, enhancing NATO’s surveillance and command capabilities in the Baltic Sea region from mid-March to the end of June. During this time, German air traffic controllers will be integrated into the control and reporting centers of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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