A Lithuanian fighter on patrol with two French jets crashed into a swamp after it collided with one of the French Mirage 2000 fighters. The two-person Lithuanian crew ejected and nobody was hurt as they pointed their L-39 Albatross to an uninhabited swampy forest before bailing out. The French Mirage landed with minimal damage and the L-39 crashed near Rekyva Lake, about three miles from the Zokniai air base. The planes were on patrol with another French Mirage 2000, as part of a NATO air policing mission over the Balkans. The Associated Press explains: "In rotating missions introduced after Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined the alliance in 2004, larger NATO countries take turns policing the skies over the Baltic countries, who all border Russia, because they don't have any significant air defense resources of their own." The cause of the crash is still being investigated.
In a coincidentally timed editorial, The New York Times on Monday pointed to former defense secretary Robert Gates's address to European NATO allies that they "risked becoming militarily irrelevant unless they stepped up investment in their forces and equipment." The Times editorial expands on that:
Apart from Britain and France, most European militaries have failed to keep up with technological advances in battlefield management and communications. They train their forces to defend largely unthreatened borders at home, leaving them unwilling and unprepared to defend common interests abroad, from Afghanistan to Libya.
Of course, those Baltic countries might make the point that their eastern borders aren't exactly unthreatened, especially on the third anniversary of the South Ossetia war. But that recent history makes The Times' point that they should up their military investment all the more valid--whether or not this most recent crash proves to have been preventable.