Air Force Assumes Lead for NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission

ŠIAULIAI AIR BASE, Lithuania --

The U.S. Air Force assumed control of NATO's Baltic air policing mission from the Polish air force during a handover ceremony here yesterday.

About 140 airmen and seven F-15C Eagles deployed to Lithuania as part of the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron from Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England.

"I'm excited as a NATO air chief and I'm excited as a U.S. citizen to welcome the 493rd from the 48th Fighter Wing, an F-15C squadron, to serve the next rotation of Baltic air policing," said Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe. "It is the U.S.'s fifth opportunity to rotate and serve the region, and I know that all of our maintainers, operators, mission supporters and that beautiful F-15C will do whatever it takes over the next 120 days to protect the beautiful sovereign skies above Lithuania."

Collective Defense Mission

NATO air policing is a peacetime collective defense mission, safeguarding the integrity of the NATO alliance members' airspace. Baltic air policing is part of NATO's "Smart Defense" model, which incorporates allied nations, conducting operations through shared capabilities and coordinated efforts to effectively accomplish missions.

"We know that all of NATO stands alongside us in defense of our shared values and principles," said Vytautas Umbrasas, Lithuania's vice defense minister.

"I speak on behalf of every U.S. airman here, when I say that it is our honor to protect and defend the sovereignty of the Baltic borders," said Air Force Lt. Col. Cody Blake, 493rd EFS detachment commander. The 493rd EFS is slated to continue its current rotation through the end of 2017.