Four Rafale Fighters jets from the 30th Fighter Wing landed in Lithuania to reinforce NATO’s defensive and deterrent posture on the eastern flank of Europe. Their mission will be to participate in the surveillance and defense of the airspace of the Baltic states, tweeted the French Air Force.
Quatre Rafale de la 30e escadre de chasse ont atterrit en Lituanie pour renforcer la posture défensive et dissuasive de l'OTAN sur le flanc est de l'#Europe. Leur mission sera de participer à la surveillance et à la défense de l'espace aérien des états baltes. #ShieldingTheSkies pic.twitter.com/PfQT8ASva5
— Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (@Armee_de_lair) November 26, 2022
Earlier, the French Defense Ministry had said that Paris would deploy four Rafale fighter jets in Lithuania from November 25 as part of the NATO military buildup to protect the airspace over the Baltic countries,
“France will deploy four Rafale fighter jets in Lithuania under a NATO mandate from November 25. They will fulfill tasks for the protection of airspace over the Baltic countries,” the ministry said in a statement.
The Rafale fighters have actively participated in air force drills from Europe to the Asia Pacific. The French air force had earlier conducted the first phase of a large-scale, long-range deployment of air assets into the Asian-Pacific region.
“On August 10, 2022, the French Air and Space Force launched a large-scale, long-range deployment of air assets into the Asian-Pacific region. The first phase of the deployment – dubbed Henri Brown – began in France on August 10 and ended in New Caledonia on August 12.
An air task force consisting of three Rafale fighters, two A330 MRTT Phenix air-to-air refueling aircraft, and two A400M transport aircraft conducted the force projection mission in less than 72 hours,” NATO had said in a statement.
Meanwhile, France will dispatch Leclerc tanks and infantry fighting vehicles to Romania as part of the NATO military buildup on its eastern flank, the French defense minister confirmed.
Sebastien Lecornu said in a statement that reinforcements would include a reinforced armored infantry company and a squadron of Leclerc tanks. He described the mission as “defense, deterrence, and protection.”
Besides Rafale fighter jets to Lithuania, France is also sending a light infantry company to Estonia. The deployment will be phased and continue until November.
The mission will cost France between 600 and 700 million euros ($588-686 million) this year alone, the Defense Ministry estimates. It described the buildup of manpower and military hardware on the border with Russia as “non-escalatory.”
Meanwhile, Croatia is engaged in talks with France on the purchase of short-range air defense systems as part of its national defense strategy, Croatian Defense Minister Mario Banozic said.
The minister said that at the initiative of Germany, which was supported by 14 member states of the bloc, the arming of the participating countries with Arrow 3 or Patriot air defense systems is being prepared as part of the European Sky Shield Initiative.
Banozic noted that Croatia postponed its participation, as it is already negotiating with France on short-range air defense systems.
“After the drone crash in Zagreb in March this year, we identified air defense as a priority, first of all, short-range systems, and in bilateral conversations with France, we have already provided material resources at the level of one battery, and our goal is to provide five batteries in a short time,” the minister said, adding that the acquisition of medium- and long-range air defense systems are also on the agenda.
The aircraft crashed in the early hours of March 11 on the outskirts of the Croatian capital of Zagreb, triggering a loud blast and creating a crater. The Croatian police found two parachutes at the site.
Croatian President Zoran Milanovic and the Romanian defense ministry said that the drone came from Ukraine. The next day, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic sent a letter to the EU and NATO leadership, calling on them to strengthen cooperation and prevent such incidents.
Coincidentally, several hours before the incident, the Croatian Prime Minister announced the need to modernize the country’s air defense to acquire short-range air defense systems in 2023-2025.
In November 2021, Croatian signed an agreement with France to supply 12 Rafale jet fighters worth almost $1 billion.