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Swedes join NATO Baltic air exercise

AFP/The Local · 24 Mar 2011, 07:51

Published: 24 Mar 2011 07:51 GMT+01:00

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JAS Gripen aircraft joined the exercise with other NATO members in the skies above the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

"For the first time ever, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen fighters trained together with NATO aircraft, enhancing the safety of the airspace of the Baltic," Estonian military spokesperson Lieutenant Commander Ingrid Muehling told AFP.

Since the Cold War ended two decades ago, Sweden has gradually boosted ties with the 28-member North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, while remaining neutral.

But Wednesday's exercise marked a new level in links.

"It was a very important step in expanding cooperation between NATO air forces in the Baltics and NATO partner Sweden," said Lieutenant General Friedrich Ploeger, the German officer who is deputy commander of NATO's air hub at Ramstein in Germany.

"It showed our capacity to defend the Baltic airspace, and stressed our commitment to joint security," he told reporters in Estonia's capital Tallinn.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania won independence from the crumbling Soviet Union in 1991 after five decades of Kremlin rule, and have rocky relations with their former master.

They joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. With a total population of 6.7 million and a professional military of 20,500, they lack sufficient aircraft to police their own skies.

Story continues below…

As a result, larger NATO members take turns patrolling the trio's airspace on rotations lasting several months at a time, out of a base in Lithuania.

German fliers are currently responsible for the patrols, and in the exercise practised alongside their Swedish counterparts.

Besides Sweden, Germany and the Baltic states, the exercise also involved ex-communist Poland, which joined NATO in 1999.

AFP/The Local (news@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

11:30 March 24, 2011 by Eagle63
Very good !

A Canadian friend of mine, who is a CF-18 pilot with the Canadian Forces, would love to compare 'his' jet with the Gripen...
12:34 March 24, 2011 by karex
So, what exactly is the difference between a NATO member and a NATO "partner", I wonder? Anyone know?
12:35 March 24, 2011 by Nemesis
I don't understand why this is even news.

Nato troops are quite often in Northern Sweden for winter training and joint manevours in the Baltic. They have been doing that for the last two decades on a regular basis.

Also the EU Nordic Battlegroup regularly trains in Northern Sweden and Finland. Irish troops regularly travel there to train with there Finnish, Swedish and Estonian counterparts.
13:39 March 24, 2011 by isenhand
" while remaining neutral."

Errr …. No! Sweden is not a neutral country and has not been a neutral country since 1995. You can't call a country that has committed itself to the defence of the EU and leads the Nordic battle group a "neutral country". It is, however, nonaligned as it is not a formal member of NATO.

"what exactly is the difference between a NATO member and a NATO "partner","

A NATO member is supposed to treat an attack on any member as the attack on itself whereas a NATO partner has not committed itself to such a commitment.
11:04 March 25, 2011 by karex
Ah, thanks for the clarification isenhand!
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