NATO's air policing mission for the Baltic states has suffered its first major mishap, with two aircraft involved in a mid-air collision on 30 August.
The Lithuanian defence ministry confirmed one of its Aero Vodochody L-39ZA trainer/light attack aircraft was involved in the incident, along with a French air force Dassault Mirage 2000 fighter.
Both aircraft were operating from Lithuania's Siauliai air base, where several NATO nations have deployed fighters to provide quick reaction alert (QRA) cover for that country, Estonia and Latvia since April 2004.
The defence ministry said the two-person crew of the L-39 ejected after the collision, and the Mirage is believed to have landed safely. The French defence ministry has yet to comment.
The accident happened as France's latest Mirage detachment to Siauliai was coming to an end. Four Lockheed Martin F-16s from the Royal Danish Air Force are due to touch down at the base on 31 August, before assuming air policing responsibilities on 2 September.
© Lithuanian defence ministry
Lithuania's air force had only two L-39ZAs prior to the 30 August accident
The L-39 loss reduces the Lithuanian air force's inventory of the type to just one. Powered by an AI-25TL engine, the aircraft was delivered in 1998, as listed in Flightglobal's MiliCAS database.
NATO has previously pledged to continue providing QRA cover for Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania until 2018, but the lack of any fighter capability between the three alliance members could require this to be extended further.
While deployed on the air policing mission, NATO members keep two of their fighters at 15min readiness to launch. Other activities include performing practice intercepts involving Lithuanian air force assets, which also include Alenia Aeronautica C-27J and Let L-410 transports and Mil Mi-8 helicopters.