In the face of increased Russian aggression by military aircraft, NATO has stepped up its air patrols over the Baltic states -- and in January, Europe is sending its most advanced jet fighters to counter the threat of Russian warplanes. 

The Aviationist reported that the Italian air force will take over on Jan. 1 as the lead nation in the expanded Baltic Air Patrol (BAP), the NATO mission that has been providing air defenses for 10 years to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which do not have fighter airplanes of their own.  

Italy is sending four Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, to be based at Siauliai in Lithuania. The Typhoon, a joint Italian-German-British-Spanish project, is the most advanced warplane currently in service in Europe.  

Poland is sending four MiG-29 fighters to Siauliai, and Spain will send four of its own Typhoons to Amari, in Estonia. The three nations will take over from the current rotation of BAP countries: Canada with four F-18 Hornets, the Netherlands with four F-16s, and Germany with four Typhoons. 

The scope of the BAP has broadened hugely since it was established. The recent Russian intervention and annexation of Crimea, as well as Russian backing of separatists in East Ukraine, as well as a spate of aggressive activity from Russian aircraft near NATO airspace in Europe, have resulted in NATO planes conducting frequent emergency missions to intercept Russian warplanes.

So far, 14 NATO member states have committed to the patrol since it began in March 2004. Hungary will perform its first BAP mission in 2015. 

In addition to the BAP, Italy will also patrol three regions in Europe as part of a wider air-policing mission over countries that do not have their own air forces but are members of NATO: Iceland, Slovenia and Albania.