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Czech Baltic Air Policing 2012

Published : 6 September 2012
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On 1st September, the Czech Air Force took over the duty of ensuring the protection of the airspace over Baltic States from Poland. Czechs should be relieved on 4th January 2013 by a Danish contingent. The changeover ceremony was attended by Mr. Rasa Juknevičienė and Audronis Ažubalis, respectively Lithuanian Ministers of National Defence and Foreign Affairs, by Minister of Defence of the Czech Republic Alexandr Vondra, Operational Commander of Polish Armed Forces Lt Gen Edward Gruszka, and representatives of the embassies of the Czech Republic, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, U.S.A. and Hungary.

During those 4 months, 64 people from Czech Air Force, coming mainly from 21st Tactical Air Base in Časlav, will operate 4 aircraft JAS-39C Gripen from Lithuania’s First Air Base in Šiauliai. Czechs conduct this NATO-led mission for the second time. During their first participation between 1st May and 31st August 2009, Czech jets flew 404 flight hours in336 missions, including 8 « Alpha-Scramble », the operational take-off aimed at intercepting unidentified aircraft that don’t respect air navigation rules.

This Air Policing mission started in 2004 when the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) joint NATO. In order to meet the need of air security expressed by those countries, NATO initially committed itself to ensure the protection of the Baltic airspace until 2014. In last February, the Alliance decided to extend this mission provided that the Baltic member states will increase their contribution in order to compensate the costs supported by nations providing this protection.

The participation to this operation is vital for the Czech ministry of Defense because it is showing at national level the absolute necessity to have a supersonic jet capability. Thanks to this operation, the Czech Republic demonstrates that it is not only a security consumer within NATO but also a security provider.

This point of view is quite essential in a period of time where Czechs and Swedes are negotiating the extension of the leasing period of the Gripens which normally will end up in December 2014. Until now, the Swedes are convinced that only their aircraft is perfectly tailored for the Czech operational needs and financial capabilities and they are reluctant to bring down their prices. During last summer, the Czechs expressed their bad mood by threatening to launch a call for tender in order to increase concurrence.

A new high level negotiation meeting is planned on 21st September between Czech and Swedish Defense ministers.