Spain takes over Baltic watch for NATO
Spain has taken over the NATO watch over Baltic skies as of July 31, 2006; the responsibility runs for the next four months. The ceremony, involving 84 airmen, flying four Mirage F-1's took place at Zokniai airbase in northern Lithuania, reports Agence France Presse.
Members of NATO have been patrolling Baltic skies since March 2004, when the three small nations joined the military union.
It is expected, however, that the Baltic states will eventually acquire their own means of supersonic jet air defense.
There has been a rumour, according to "Eesti Päevaleht", that Estonia was looking at leasing two Saab Grippen supersonic jet fighters.
The criticism at the time was that it would be impractical, since Estonia would have to acquire airbases, air personnel, ground personnel and airbase personnel and the infrastructure, at high cost.
The answer to that is that the Grippen is the easiest and most economic fighter in the world to maintain since maintenance personnel take very short time to train. The aircraft parts are also modular. They can be easily replaced by determining their condition, pulling out the part and replacing it. The Grippen is capable of landing on highways, where then a small group of trucks will come along and refuel and perform minor maintenance.
Of the countries that have acquired the Grippen, Slovakia and Hungary are leasing the aircraft. That would make the financing much easier for a smaller country or economy.
Maybe then the Baltics could take over the patrolling of its own skies.