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Baltics look to NATO for air defence support in new defence plans

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Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia are asking fellow NATO members to ramp up the air defence support to secure the Baltic part of the military alliance’ Eastern Flank in case of an attack ahead of revamping defence plans for the NATO territory, diplomats told EURACTIV.

The Baltic countries would like to see increased “rotational air defence” to protect their territory, several NATO diplomats told EURACTIV, adding they see a “lack of capacity” as the war in Ukraine has laid bare the need for efficient air defence against attacks and the emptied stocks.

“We need new defence plans, particularly for the Eastern flank, and a solution to the air defence rotations in Eastern front countries”, Urmas Reinsalu, then-foreign minister of Estonia, said at the NATO ministerial meeting in April.

NATO members agreed in June 2022 at the Madrid Summit to increase their presence on the military alliance’s Eastern Flank as a push to better deter possible attacks against NATO members and increase their defence readiness.

Expensive equipment

Investing into expensive air defence systems for the Baltic countries would be one of the pieces of the puzzle of the collective defence for all NATO members, NATO diplomats said.

The burden should therefore be shared among them, according to some people involved in the discussions.

On the Baltic states’ radar are all means necessary to defend their airspace: aircraft, ground-based units, and personnel, among others, a NATO diplomat told EURACTIV. A second NATO diplomat referred to surface-to-air missile defence systems.

“We need to have a system in place instead of spontaneous rotations”, one of the NATO diplomats said. “We want to have a certain sustainable air defence system, which is going to rotate for the coming years.”

Estonia will be procuring mid-range systems together with Latvia “but will receive them in 2025”, they added.

At last year’s NATO summit in Madrid, “there was a call to deliver air defence capacities to Eastern flank, but not nothing particularly practical has taken place,” the same NATO diplomat from one of the Baltic countries told EURACTIV last month.

New defence plans

At the NATO Vilnius summit in July, alliance member states are also expected to agree on new regional defence plans after receiving an outline end of April, EURACTIV understands.

This request is prompted by the current war their neighbour Russia launched on Ukraine in February 2022.

One of the lessons of the war in Ukraine is the “need” to strengthen air defence, a NATO diplomat told EURACTIV, as it allows to protect airspace and forces and equipment on the ground.

The other reason is the need to replenish stocks with additional equipment and ammunition after emptying them to supply Ukraine, and the “need” to modernise defence forces, especially in eastern Europe, they also said.

The Baltic countries already also benefit from air patrolling of their airspace by other NATO members, dubbed “Baltic Air Policing” (BAP).

The Baltic Air policing was first established in 2004 when they joined the military alliance since they could not do it themselves and as a push to deter aggression from Russia.

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