Tensions in and around the Baltic states on Europe’s eastern front have been at near-historic highs since the Russian military annexation of Crimea in 2012. Since then, there have been heightened concerns about further Russian expansion, especially through the narrow gap between the Russian satellite of Kaliningrad and nearby ally Belarus, which if captured, would cut Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania off from NATO support.

These concerns have been compounded by a number of military aircraft intercepts over the Baltic and Black seas, as well as Russia’s massive Zapad military exercises held in the region last year, which seemed to approximate full scare war with NATO forces in the region. As a result, several NATO military powers provide a rotating air presence intended to police the air over the Baltics and counter any offensive Russian operations. In August, the U.S. Air Force began their rotation in the role, along with an additional seven F-15C Eagles and crew hailing from the 493rd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron of Britain’s Royal Air Force.

I’m excited as a NATO air chief and I’m excited as a U.S. citizen to welcome the 493rd from the 48th Fighter Wing, an F-15C squadron, to serve the next rotation of Baltic air policing,” said Air Force Gen. Tod D. Wolters, commander of NATO Allied Air Command and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, at the time.

“It is the U.S.’s fifth opportunity to rotate and serve the region, and I know that all of our maintainers, operators, mission supporters and that beautiful F-15C will do whatever it takes over the next 120 days to protect the beautiful sovereign skies above Lithuania.”