Polish MiGs deploy as NATO steps up air defences

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Poland has sent four of its RAC MiG-29A fighters to Šiauliai air base in Lithuania for a planned period of Baltic air policing duty, while heightened tensions between NATO members and Russia have seen additional nations send combat aircraft to eastern Europe.

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Bartosz Glowacki

Deployed from an air base in Malbork on 29 April as part of a four-month, “Orlik 5” detachment to protect the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Polish air force aircraft are supported by a contingent totalling about 100 personnel, including eight pilots. They are joined at Šiauliai by four Eurofighter Typhoons from the UK Royal Air Force.

On 28 April, four Dassault Rafale C fighters from the French air force’s Mont-de-Marsan and Saint-Dizier air bases landed in Malbork, starting a four-month detachment also involving roughly 100 personnel. The single-seat aircraft will perform joint training with the Polish air force, and could also be sent to support the Baltic air policing mission if required.

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Bartosz Glowacki

“We are starting to make not only symbolic gestures, but also starting responsible work so that the North Atlantic Alliance could always find an appropriate and adequate response to threats that emerge close to our borders,” says Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski, who supports a “permanent principle of constant monitoring and updating contingency plans”.

Defence minister Tomasz Siemoniak, joined by his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian, notes: “This is a special mission and it creates special challenges for us. I am convinced that Polish and French soldiers will fulfil that task excellently.”

Polish MiG-29s have logged a combined 750 flight hours on four previous Orlik detachments in Lithuania between 2006 and 2010. Warsaw’s latest commitment has an associated cost of Zl7.8 million ($2.6 million).

The Baltic mission will also be supported from 1 May by four Lockheed Martin F-16AMs from the Royal Danish Air Force, with these forward-deployed to Ämari air base in Estonia, NATO says.

Separately, six Royal Canadian Air Force Boeing CF-18A fighters left Bagotville air base in Quebec for Romania on 29 April, accompanied by an Airbus A310 tanker/transport. “The Air Task Force will remain deployed until otherwise ordered by the government of Canada,” says the service, which is committing almost 230 personnel to the activity.

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Royal Canadian Air Force

Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the planned deployment on 17 April, noting: “Along with our NATO allies, we recognise the need to enhance security and stability in central and eastern Europe.”

Additional reporting by Craig Hoyle in London