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    NATO fighters practice air defense over Baltic skies

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    NATO fighters started on Tuesday exercises aimed at policing the airspace over the Baltic countries as part of the Baltic air-policing mission, the Estonian defense ministry said.

    TALLINN, October 21 (RIA Novosti) - NATO fighters started on Tuesday exercises aimed at policing the airspace over the Baltic countries as part of the Baltic air-policing mission, the Estonian defense ministry said.

    The Baltic air-policing mission is a NATO air defense Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) in order to guard the airspace over the three Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

    The current exercise involves up to 15 NATO aircraft from the Baltic States, the U.S., Poland and Denmark. Overall supervision of the exercise will be carried out from a NATO Combined Air Operations Centre in Germany.

    Estonian Defense Minister Jaak Aaviksoo said earlier that the exercises would become a routine part of the Baltic air-policing mission.

    The Baltic States have a poorly equipped air force and air defense capability, which cannot provide sufficient protection of the airspace and perform the so called air policing function - prevention of airspace violations and landing by aircraft that have gone off course either on purpose or unintentionally.

    Since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, alliance nations have policed the airspace over the region on a three-month rotation basis from Lithuania's First Air Base in Zokniai, near the northern city of Siauliai.

    At present this mission is carried out by the U.S. Air Force. The Americans deploy 100 personnel and four F-15C fighters at a Lithuanian airbase in Zokniai.

    The current agreement on the protection of Baltic airspace by NATO fighters runs until 2011, but the Baltic States are insisting it be extended until 2018.

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