In the April 2005 issue of the British periodical Air Forces Monthly, a small article written by Mick Britton describes how the more established members of NATO patrol Baltic air space, for “NATO treaty requires the policing of the air space of its members . Even though there is no specific threat, even from their Russian neighbour.”
The task is theirs because Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have no jet fighters of their own, only the Lithuanian Air Arm has 6 Czech built (and aging) jet trainers. This means members of NATO take three month turns defending the Baltics with 4 jet fighters (with 4 in reserve at home) that they base in Zokniai, Lithuania.
Zokniai, which was the largest Soviet airbase outside Russia housing approximately 55,000 personnel, had gone to .............
................ disrepair over the last ten years and had to be repaired by the NATO forces. They also had to build temporary aircraft shelters to protect the fighters against the extreme cold weather.
The first to undertake this commitment was Belgium in the Spring of 2004, then Denmark in Summer of 2004 and after October 2004 the British until January 2005. The Norwegians followed, and presently the Dutch are responsible for defending Baltic/NATO air space. The schedule sees the Germans and the Americans to finish out the year. The Belgians and Danish were equipped with U.S. built F-16 Falcons (visit www.f-16.net for more on this aircraft and on Baltic air patrol) and the British with Toronado F.3 interceptors.
The British operation was called “Solstice” and the temporary duty is called Quick Reaction Alert (QRA).
Their area of patrol takes them within 150 miles of St.Petersburg and along the very edge of NATO airspace. They set up a groundcrew establishment of about 60 personnel. This includes administrators, technicians as well as firefighters.
One of the British aircrew was overheard telling his groundcrew, “Twenty years ago who’d have thought we’d even get to within 500 miles of the place without being shot at!”