Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Air defense mission needed in Baltic region

NATO needs to be ready for an air defense mission in the Baltic States, NATO supreme allied commander general Philip Breedlove noted on Tuesday, during his visit in Lithuania.

Breedlove met with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite and chief of the Lithuanian Armed forces Jonas Vytautas Zukas to discuss security situation in the region.

The meeting focused on the contribution of the United States to security in the Baltic countries and strengthening their air defense, said the Lithuanian president's office.

Breedlove highlighted the difference between NATO's air policing activities in the Baltic skies and the air defense mission.

"The Baltic air policing is a peace time mission, but I think that the alliance does need to be ready for the air defense mission," he said. He noted that the alliance is "looking at that capability."

"This is a task that has been given to our headquarters to develop options for our political leadership to consider," he said.

Since Lithuania, a small Baltic state, doesn't have its own air defense capabilities, air forces from different rotations of NATO member countries have been conducting air policing since 2004 from Lithuanian air base in Siauliai, northern Lithuania.

"We want a bigger contribution from our allies or clear understanding on how the transition from the air policing to the air defense mission is to take place," Zukas told the press conference.

During his visit in Lithuania, Breedlove also received the cross of commander of the order of merits to the Lithuanian state, a state award from the Lithuanian president. The award was given on the 12th anniversary of the country's NATO membership.

It's the second NATO high-profile visit in Lithuania in recent days focused on security issues in the region. Last week, the North Atlantic Council (NAC) paid a visit to Lithuania to discuss the key security issues in Eastern Europe before the upcoming NATO's summit in Warsaw in July.

Before the summit, Lithuanian leaders have been seeking a stronger presence of allied forces in the region and more security commitments.

Lithuania has stepped up its defense capabilities since 2014 amid tensions in the Eastern Europe.

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