Correspondent in Brussels
Since 2006, Spain participates in the air patrol mission in the three Baltic countries. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in 2004, but due to their size they do not have their own aviation or the possibility of having devices to deal with the air superiority of Russia. For this reason, the Atlantic Alliance established a rotating shift for the countries to succeed each other in the area with their own planes.
Since 2014, when Russia annexed the peninsula of Crimea and the current crisis began in eastern Ukraine, the Alliance decided to reinforce the military presence in the Baltic countries and Spain increased the number of aircraft deployed there and
sent to the Eurofighter which are the most modern available in our country.
In the Baltic skies, Spanish pilots have taken off hundreds of times to intercept unreported flights in international airspace, which are always Russian military aircraft trying to test Allied measures.
They are usually transport flights to the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, but often they are SU-34 fighter-bombers, which are also the most modern Moscow has. In August 2018, a Eurofighter from Wing 11 of Moron de la Frontera who was then posted to the Lithuanian Siauliai air base, fired an air-to-air missile by mistake during maneuvers with French planes that were also participating in the mission to protect the Baltic allies.
During these years, Spain has also sent the mission of the OTAN in the Baltic to its F-18s, which have added more than 700 flight hours there. The last rotation took place last year and lasted until August 31, the date on which seven Eurofighters from Wing 14 returned to their base in Albacete. Each rotation includes some 150 soldiers and since it began every year, Spain has contributed to this NATO mission.
Due to the situation in Ukraine, in 2014 NATO decided to extend this formula of air patrols to Romania, a country exposed to the threat of Russia but with an underdeveloped aviation. Six Spanish Eurofighters are currently deployed at an air base on the banks of the Black Sea, near the city of Constanta. All the allied air operations that take place in the area are monitored by NATO itself from the Torrejón de Ardoz air base.
At the 2016 NATO summit, the allied leaders decided that in addition to aviation, it was necessary to reinforce the military presence on the eastern flank and for this reason the ‘Forward Presence’ operation was launched, in which the main countries participate. Spain currently has 350 soldiers with heavy material in Latvia, in a contingent sent by Canada.
As for maritime deployment, since 2017 Spain has been part of NATO’s Permanent Naval Groups, designed to be the central element of deterrence in the event of a crisis. Spain participates regularly and is one of the leading countries in all rotations. The current displacements of the maritime action ship Meteoro to the Black Sea are precisely to succeed its twin, the Rayo, as command ship for the NATO naval anti-mine group number 2 for six months. The Blas de Lezo frigate will be integrated into Naval Grouping number 2 in the Mediterranean along with other ships such as the US aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, under NATO command.