Czech fighters start patrolling Baltic skies |

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Czech fighters start patrolling Baltic skies

Czech fighters start patrolling Baltic skies

Czech pilots with five Gripen fighter planes, along with fighter units from Belgium and Denmark, took over the task of protecting the Baltic skies from the British Royal Air Force at the Amari air base yesterday. Czech air force unit commander Pavel "Speedy" Pavlik said the Czech task is to keep four fighters always ready to immediately take off for four months.

The Belgian, Czech and Danish fighters will be patrolling the air space above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania until the end of the year. 

Estonian Defence Minister Juri Luik welcomed that the Czech military took part in the protection of the air space of Estonia and NATO.

Luik told Czech journalists that the Russian aggression in Donbass clearly showed that NATO must demonstrate its unity not only politically but also in the development of its military capabilities.

Russian planes often fly close to the Estonian border and they sometimes violate it, though not dramatically, Luik said. The presence of NATO supersonic fighters definitely forces Russia to keep the rules, he said.

As the Baltic states do not have their own supersonic air forces, the Baltic skies have been protected by their Allies since 2004, within the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS).

The Baltic mission is the sixth air space protection mission of the Czech supersonic air force: it operated in Iceland three times and this is their third mission in the Baltic states. In 2009 and 2012 the Czech pilots patrolled the Baltic air space alone, while now they will be patrolling together with the Belgian and Dutch fighters due to the worsened relations with Russia.

Pavlik said they had to take off much more often in the Baltics than in Iceland because Russia was so close.

About 90 Czech soldiers moved to Estonia with the five Gripen fighters.  

Czech Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar said Czech soldiers did not come to Estonia for a training but they were ready to protect the Estonian territory like they protect the Czech territory. "We have sent our best professionals with our best equipment," he said.

The Czech Gripens carry standard equipment used while protecting Czech air space - guided missiles, a built-in 27 mm cannon and infrared countermeasure flares. A new piece of equipment are the Litening 4i targeting and reconnaissance pods, usually used for precise strikes against ground targets. On their current mission, the pilots will use the pods for improved remote visual monitoring of other aircraft.

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