"While talking to our partners and looking into the future, we had the idea that we should specify our contribution even more, and after meeting this morning, we, all three Latvian, Estonian and Lithuanian representatives, decided that at the meeting of defense ministers today, we'll announce our plans to step up this process, and we'll do it not in 2014, as it was agreed earlier, but in Chicago," Juknevičienė told BNS late on Wednesday.
The minister did not disclose when and how the so-called host nation support for NATO forces carrying out the air policing mission could be increased. In her words, the Baltic states still have to agree on that.
"We no longer talk about whether we are going to increase our contribution. Now we only have to agree on how much, what specifically and in what ways we are going to do," the Lithuanian defense minister said.
The minister also said she informed NATO ministers that Lithuania plans to step up modernization of Šiauliai airport where NATO fighter jets are stationed. In her words, investments should make this airport more appealing to the NATO mission.
"I also announced that we changed our previous plans regarding investments into Zokniai airport. They were planned for 2013 but, despite our problematic budget, we drew it up in the way for this priority to be the most important and moved our LTL 4.5 million (EUR 1.3 million) investment from the 2013 budget to 2012. (…) These things are related to the renovation of a building where our partners keep watch," Juknevičienė said.
Lithuania plans to gradually increase host nation support for the Baltic Air Policing mission by 2015. Currently all three Baltic states spend around EUR 3 million on the mission, and the amount will increase to EUR 4 million by 2015. All three states make roughly equal contributions to the mission.
Lithuania and other Baltic states don't have air policing assets. Based on the decision by the North Atlantic Council, since March 2004, when the Baltic States joined NATO, the 24/7 task to police the airspace of the Baltic States has been conducted on three-month rotation from Lithuania's First Air Base in Zokniai/Šiauliai International Airport.
In February, NATO decided to extend the Baltic Air Policing mission which has so far had a mandate until 2014. Ambassadors in Brussels formally agreed that it would be a long-term mission with regular reviews beyond 2018. Meanwhile the Baltic states committed themselves to increasing their contribution.
Germany is currently in charge of the Baltic Air Policing mission.