published: 31.08.2012, 13:13 | updated: 31.08.2012 13:18:43
Siauliai - Czech pilots with Jas-39 Gripen fighters today officially took over the monitoring of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania´s airspace from the Poles within NATO´s project of the airspace protection for the three Baltic countries that do not have their own fighter aircraft.
The Czechs will be monitoring the Baltic sky for the second time in history. Their mission will last four months.
High representatives of the states involved, including Czech Defence Minister Alexandr Vondra, attended the ceremony at the Siauliai military base today.
Airspace protection is a sensitive task that is not entrusted to anybody, Vondra said.
His Lithuanian counterpart Rasa Jukneviciene thanked the Polish pilots for their ending mission and welcomed the Czechs.
The Czech Baltic Air Policing mission, headed by Petr Lanci and based in Siauliai, comprises over 60 soldiers. The core of the unit are pilots and airport ground staff. The contingent will be replaced by colleagues arriving from the Czech Republic halfway through the mission.
NATO fighters are present in the Baltic area in order to deal with planes that violate the airspace. Besides, their task is to protect the three states´ waters.
The Czechs will also train members of a military command centre in Karmelava, Lithuania, and take part in NATO air forces´ exercises in the region.
The mission will cost the Czech Republic about 100 million crowns.
Vondra said the money is far from lost as it will be spent within the allies´ solidarity and it will bring new valuable experience to Czech pilots.
The Czechs will protect the three countries´ airspace until January 4, 2013, when they will be replaced by the Danish air force with F-16 fighters.
During their previous Baltic air policing mission in 2009, the Czechs had eight urgent emergency flights, David Schreier, deputy commander of the Lithuanian mission, told journalists recently.
"For example, intervention was necessary against some planes that did not have their response device switched on," he said.
The airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania has been protected by other NATO members since 2004.
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