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On September 1 a contingent of the Czech Air Force will commence a four month long mission as part of the NATO’s Baltic Air Policing operation. Czech Gripen pilots will patrol and protect the airspace of three Baltic States, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Czech pilots will take over their responsibilities from members of the British, Hungarian and Spanish contingents, who have protected the airspace of the three Baltic States since May 2019. Based on the mandate of the country’s Parliament, the Czech contingent will be composed of five JAS-39C/D Gripen multirole fighter jets from the 21st Tactical Air Force Base in Čáslav, which for the first time will be equipped with Litening 4i airborne day/night navigation and laser targeting pods, as well as about 100 personnel.

“Guarding the Baltic airspace is a fulfilment of our allied commitment and a proof that we are a valid and active member of NATO,” said Czech Defence Minister, Lubomir Metnar.

The Czech Gripens will operate from the Estonian Ämari Air Base and cooperate with Belgian and Danish F-16 multirole fighter jets stationed at the Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania.

This will be the sixth multinational operation for Czech Gripen pilots, as they have already guarded the airspace of the Baltic States in 2009 and 2012, operating from the Lithuanian Šiauliai Air Base. The Czech Air Force has also participated in protecting the airspace of Iceland in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

During the planned mission there will be two rotations of the personnel stationed at the Ämari Air Base, as some of the pilots and/or maintenance crews will be replaced in the middle of the deployment.

“This is the sixth mission of our fighters and we have already guarded the Baltic airspace twice. We joined the Alliance’s common airspace protection at the same time as joining NATO. For twenty years we have been continuously guarding the airspace of the Czech Republic. I am convinced that we will be able to re-engage in sharp deployment both at home and abroad,” said Major General Petr Hromek, Commander of the Czech Air Force.

Czech pilots will end their tour of duty on December 31. The contingent is expected to return to the country in the first weeks of 2020.

Michal Jarocki