Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 117

With very little publicity the Baltic Air Surveillance Network (Baltnet) went online last week (BNS, June 6). The event represents a milestone in terms of Baltic security and of the three countries’ preparations for NATO membership. Baltnet is one of several joint projects designed to enhance the common defense posture of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and to develop cooperation between them and the NATO alliance. The network performs some civilian functions as well.

Baltnet stems from a joint 1994 initiative of the three Baltic states and several NATO countries. Since 1997, the U.S. Congress has provided the main share of funding for the project. Norway, as the supporting lead nation, chairs the Baltnet Steering Group and the Technical Subgroup. The American company Lockheed-Martin is the main contractor for the installation of Baltnet centers in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Baltnet is a dual-use system in two respects: first, by operating not only for military purposes but also in support of commercial aviation, helping to improve flight safety over the Baltic region; and, second, by functioning both as an integrated regional system and as a combination of three autonomous national systems.

The network consists of air surveillance systems on the territories of the three Baltic states, feeding data to three national nodes–an Estonian, a Latvian and a Lithuanian–each of them capable of serving common Baltic needs as well as the needs of the host country. Baltnet’s hub is the Regional Airspace Surveillance Coordination Center (RASCC), located at Karmelava in Lithuania. RASCC is designed to process and display the data from primary and secondary radars in the three states and to transmit data to NATO headquarters and to other parties as warranted. The National Nodes will in turn receive and display a common, integrated air picture of the region from RASCC, as well as providing backup when the network becomes fully operational later this year as planned.

At RASCC, a combined staff of representatives of the three Baltic states directs and administers the entire Baltnet system, using English as the sole working language. The combined staff at Karmelava operates with mainly American and Norwegian support on site in terms of training and expert advice. The network enables the Baltic states’ national and tripartite authorities, as well as friendly regional countries and organizations, to survey the airspace over the land and maritime areas of the entire region. Those authorities and organizations include the Baltic states’ air forces, civil air traffic control agencies, border and coastal guards, relevant agencies of other Baltic Sea countries and Nordic countries, and NATO staffs. Baltnet applies NATO standards and procedures, ensuring compatibility and interoperability with the alliance’s systems.

Interoperability is a key goal not only of Baltnet, but also of the other joint military programs of the three Baltic states and NATO. Those programs include the Baltic peace-support battalion Baltbat, naval squadron Baltron and defense staff college Baltdefcol. Such projects form the foundation both of inter-Baltic security ties and of the rapidly developing links of the three states, as a group, with the Atlantic Alliance (see the Monitor, January 31, May 5). As the acting commander of Estonia’s defense forces, Colonel Mart Tiru told a Monitor representative last week in Tallinn, those four programs constitute the main stepping stones of the Baltic states on the road to NATO. Once Baltnet, Baltbat, Baltron and Baltdefcol–along with the national military programs of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania–reach fruition, then the Baltic states’ accession to NATO should become virtually a political formalization of an already existing situation.