France to deploy Rafales to Lithuania for the first time

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France will deploy Rafale fighter jets to Siauliai in Lithuania for the first time to participate in the NATO Baltic Air Policing mission. 

The decision was announced by the French Minister of the Armed Forces, Sébastien Lecornu, during a briefing on October 11, 2022. It is part of a larger reinforcement of France’s contribution to protecting the eastern flank of NATO. 

During its deployments in Siauliai, the air base in northern Lithuania from where fighters of NATO Baltic Air Policing mission are operating, the French Air and Space Force usually sent the older Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters. 

But for the next rotation, Lecornu said that Dassault Rafales, the spearhead of the French fighter fleet, would be deployed.  

While it will be the first time that Rafales defend the Lithuanian skies, they had already been sent to Malbork in Poland as part of the same mission in May 2014, shortly after the annexation of Crimea.  

Two Rafales were also sent to Poland on February 24, 2022, hours after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as part of NATO’s Enhanced Vigilance Activities (EVA) mission. The French fighters have continued to regularly patrol the Polish airspace ever since. 

Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, France launched the Aigle [Eagle] mission with the dispatch of 500 soldiers in Constanta, Romania, on the shores of the Black Sea. Backed by 300 Belgian or Dutch soldiers on rotation, this battalion constitutes one of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Groups. 

The French armed forces in Romania deployed the SAMP/T ground-to-air defense system, also called MAMBA, to “provide a protective bubble for the benefit of the [NATO] forces operating in the coverage area.” 

Baltic Air Policing mission 

The Baltic Air Policing mission started in 2004 when the Baltic States joined NATO. It is one of the main missions of NATO air forces, which rotate to protect Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian airspaces from incursions, as these countries have no airborne capability of their own 

On October 1, 2022, four F-16 fighter aircraft of the Polish Air Force were deployed to Siauliai, replacing the JAS 39 Gripens of the Czech Air Force.  

Poland will be supporting Hungary, which has been leading the NATO Air Policing mission out of Siauliai since August 2022. After two months, the Polish Air Force will take over the leadership. 

The deployment of French Rafales should take place around the end of 2022. 

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