The US will allocate 175 million US dollars for Baltic states’ defence, including 50 million for the development of air defences.
Regional air defence is considered a weak spot in the Baltic states, and NATO has been engaged in air policing mission since 2004. However, Baltic and US officials have proposed shifting the mission to an air defence mandate, a move that is yet to be endorsed by the Alliance.
“The transition from air policing to air defence requires a common decision from all Allies, but the US position and practical support are of great importance,” Estonian Minister of Defense Jüri Luik is quoted in the ministry’s press release.
The change would consist of deploying an early warning system, anti-aircraft weapon systems that the Baltic states currently lack, as well as surveillance equipment and additional personnel.
“This decision will take the US-Baltic defense cooperation to a new level," said Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, according to ERR News.
Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has previously told LRT TV that there has been an increase in aid which adds indirectly to the country’s defence budget, yet contributes “directly to our safety”.
“I would add the 500 soldiers to the investment,” said Linkevičius, referring to the US armoured battalion stationed in Lithuania on a rotational deployment for six months.
Read more: US armour arrives in Lithuania – photos
“Lithuania and other Baltic states have spoken about [air defence] for a very long time, and it's a significant step forward, and of course, it will be easier to speak about the growing need of [funds] and needs in the future,” said the head of Eastern Europe Studies Centre, Linas Kojala.
Lithuania is buying NASAMS medium-range anti-aircraft batteries from Norway for 110 million euros, which will be the first system of its kind in the Baltic states. The three countries' militaries mostly field close-range anti-aircraft weapons, including the portable Stinger missiles.