Czech Gripen fighters will take over the protection of the airspace of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as of September in accordance with the Czech commitments in NATO, the Czech unit's officer Vladimir Ficenec told CTK, adding that the Baltic mission will last until the end of the year.
The Czechs will protect the skies together with the Danish and Belgian air forces. This will be the Czech supersonic fleet's sixth such mission. In the past, it operated in Iceland three times and in the Baltic area twice in 2009 and 2012.
NATO countries alternate in protecting the skies over the Baltic countries since the latter do not have a supersonic fleet of their own.
This time, the Czech pilots' host base will be Amari, Estonia. They will keep on alert within NATINAMDS (NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System) with their JAS-39C Gripen fighters.
"By protecting the Baltic skies, we fulfil our commitment as an ally, which proves that we are an effective and active member of NATO," Defence Minister Lubomir Metnar (for ANO) said.
Czech parliament approved the sending of five Gripens and 95 soldiers to the Estonian mission last year. The Czechs will take over the sky protection task from the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as of September 1. They are scheduled to return home in the first half of January 2020.
Two Czech teams will rotate at the Estonian base in the next three months, the second replacing the first halfway through the mission.
Ficenec said the Gripens involved will carry the standard equipment they also have when protecting the Czech airspace, which is guided missiles, a built-in canon and the infrared countermeasure flares.
"A novelty in the ongoing mission will be the use of the targeting and reconnaissance pods Litening 4i," said Ficenec. He said the pods primarily serve to wage precise strikes against ground targets, but the pilots in the Baltics will use them to improve their remote visual monitoring of planes.