The Hungarian air force has completed its NATO Baltic Air Policing (BAP) mission. During their four-month deployment, the Hungarian Gripen fighter jets were operating from Siauliai, Lithuania, where they handed over the lead nation role to the Polish Air Force on Thursday.
The detachment consisting of four Hungarian fighter aircraft conducted 19 Alpha scrambles during the time of their deployment; the Gripens took off on 246 occasions and logged a total of 304 flying hours. On every occasion, the Alpha scrambles were made because of the appearance of unidentified Russian aircraft.
This was the first time that the BAP – in which the NATO member states had been safeguarding the airspace of Baltic states in four-month rotations (blocks) since 2004 – had Hungary in the lead nation role. After 2015 and 2019, the Hungarian air force has now served its third tenure in the Baltics.
Speaking at the Lithuanian airbase, Gábor Gion, State Secretary for Strategic Analysis and Human Resource Policy of the Ministry of Defence emphasized that the Hungarian Defence Forces have been safeguarding the airspace in a wartime period when war is raging in Ukraine and the tension between NATO and Russia has mounted to levels unprecedented since the Cold War. He added that in this situation, the Hungarian air force performed excellently, and so Hungary has announced that it intends to participate in the Baltic Air Policing mission in 2025 again.
He pointed out that Hungary is a valuable member of NATO, and it does not only want to enjoy the advantages of membership but also contributes to NATO’s collective defence. He also mentioned that the government has already realized that self-defence, that is, the development of the national defence sector is a strategic national interest. For this reason, the development of the Hungarian Defence Forces had already started well before the war, and the government is working to accelerate this development process.
Hungarian BAP Detachment Commander Lieutenant Colonel Attila Ványik emphasized that on each occasion, the Alpha scrambles were ordered because of unidentified Russian planes. These included military transport aircraft and fighter jets. He added that the personnel of the detachment had to stay focused in the tense wartime situation. In answer to a question, he also said that the Russian planes characteristically flew on the route between Saint Peterburg and Kaliningrad Oblast (province), and it occurred on a daily basis that they did not use the call signs while flying over international waters.
With its four Gripen fighter jets and 77 airmen, the Hungarian detachment performed a Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) duty with the support of the Czech air force. This means that a pair of fighter jets must be combat ready and airborne within 15 minutes if an unidentified aircraft is detected.
On the occasion of the rotation handover-takeover, it was stated that as a lead nation, the Hungarian Defence Forces have performed the duties of the Baltic Air Policing mission in cooperation with the air forces of five other NATO member states (the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Belgium, Italy) over the Baltic countries (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) in the past four months. This is necessary because the Baltic states don’t have any fighters of their own.
Besides the Hungarian Defence Forces, the Czech air force also participated in the Baltic Air Policing mission at Siauliai Air Base in August and September, and the Polish Air Force in October and November. As further participating nations, the German and the Belgian air forces served at Amari Air Base, Estonia and the Italian air force at Malbork, Poland.