NATO’s Baltic Piranha ‘assurance drills’ kick off in Lithuania.
"Nearly 1,000 soldiers and around 100 pieces of military equipment have been deployed in Lithuania as part of the month-long Baltic Piranha military exercise taking place in the framework of NATO’s “assurance measures,” launched in response to perceived “challenges” posed by Russia.
The war games, which will last until October 28, will see 500 Lithuanian soldiers join forces with Belgian, American and Luxembourgian troops.
Some 280 soldiers from Belgium and 45 from Luxembourg have brought with them their own hardware to test it in action as part of the NATO Rapid Reaction Force. Belgians have arrived on board armored Piranha infantry vehicles, while Luxembourg’s soldiers delivered Dingo II reconnaissance vehicles.
The joint Belgian and Luxembourg company will train to provide support for the US Army’s 12th Combat Aviation Brigade soldiers. Currently around 200 US troops are stationed in the country on rotation.
“The exercise will include moving on public roads and parts of it will take place near populated areas, including meetings with local civilian institutions and people,” the Lithuanian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
The war games will take place at the Kairiai training ground near Klaipeda, and the firing range at Pagegiu, in addition to other facilities throughout the country."
The Belgian contingent is composed mainly of personnel drawn from the Leopoldsburg-based Bataljon Bevrijding - 5 Linie, a part of the Medium Brigade. It's an infantry unit equipped with the MOWAG Piranha Piranha IIIC 8×8. In 2006, the Belgian Army ordered 242 of them in 7 versions, with a breakup as follows: 99 for troop transport, 32 Df30 variants (armed with a rapid firing 30mm gun), 40 Df90's (armed with a 90mm gun), 24 commando and 18 engineer versions, 12 ambulances, and 17 recovery vehicles.
This deployment to Lithuania of around 25 Piranhas is the first operation abroad for the type in Belgian service:
The Fus DFC C90 (Direct Fire Concept Cannon-90mm) Piranha IIIc 8x8 is the most heavily armed version in the Belgian Army. It is equipped with a 90mm "KEnerga" Mk8 gun produced by CMI (Cockerill Maintenance et Ingénierie) in Seraing, near Liège. The gun is housed in a two-person LCTS 90DA1 turret and uses 90mm ammo specifically designed for the Mk8 gun by Mecar in Nivelles, south of Brussels. Rounds comprise a.o. the M690A1 APFSDS-T which can pierce 300mm steel at a distance of 2 km, and the M691A2 HEP-T which is primarily intended for use against bunkers and lightly armoured vehicles. The DFC C90 has 50 rounds on board, of which 20 are stored in the turret and the rest in the fuselage.
This is the second time in a year that Belgium deploys troops in the Baltic. Following the Russian de facto annexation of the Crimea and Russian involvement in Ukraine's civil war early in 2014, NATO has maintained an air policing mission over the Baltic. Until late summer 2015 this mission involved 16 jets from four NATO countries, operating from Siauliai Airbase in Lithuania, Amari Airbase in Estonia, and Malbork in Poland. For the rotation which finished at the end of August, the policing was done by four Royal Norwegian Air Force F-16s and four Italian Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons operating from Siauliai, four UK Royal Air Force Typhoons from Amari, and four Belgian Air Component F-16AMs at Malbork. The following video shows some great footage of our jets over the Baltic, shot with a GoPro camera:
Since 1 September, the mission has been reduced however to two nations and eight aircraft flying out of Siauliai and Amari only. The current rotation involves four Hungarian Saab Gripens at Siauliai and four Luftwaffe Typhoons at Amari.