Lielvārde, Latvia - NATO's Allied air forces will have access to another fully developed military airfield in the Baltics as Lielvārde Airfield is now capable of landing allied planes at any time of day and in all weather conditions. .
Lielvārde Airfield offers a capability to handle D-class allied aircraft that includes C-17 cargo carriers. This is crucial for Latvia as a host country and the whole Alliance and its various operations
After a decade of preparations, which included construction of necessary infrastructure and training of personnel, Latvian Air Force Airfield at Lielvārde has been certified for instrumental flights. According to Colonel Viesturs Masulis, Commander of the Latvian Air Force, the new facility is crucial for the collective security of Latvia and the whole Alliance.
The airfield now offers more options to allied planes significantly enhancing operational air mobility. "Lielvārde Airfield has been certified according to Instrumental Flight Rules (IFR)," said Colonel Masulis. "Certification essentially means that we can now land and service planes at any time of day and in all weather conditions. Our Allies can now count on better mobility when planning air force operations near our region. This is also a way for Latvia to put the Lielvārde Military Airfield on the global NATO map and prove that we are reliable and equal partners," Colonel Masulis added.
Colonel Viesturs Masulis, Commander of the Latvian Air Force during the ceremony at Lielvārde Airfield. Photo by SSG Gatis Indrēvics.
A US Air Force KC-135 air-to-air-refuelling aircaft taxiing at Lielvārde Airfield. Photo by SSG Gatis Indrēvics.
US Air Force F-35 fighter jets landed in Latvia in July 2019, US Air Force F-35 fighter jets conducted a hot pit refuelling at Lielvārde Airfield. Archived photo by SGT Ēriks Kukutis
Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš, Chief of Defence, is also highly satisfied with the airfield upgrade. "If there is fog, it rains or pilots need to land their aircraft in the dark, they may struggle. These factors will now on have no effect, automated systems will do most of our job for us and pilots will be able to focus more safely on other tasks," General Kalniņš pointed out.
Colonel Masulis is convinced that the freshly certified airfield will give NATO additional advantages. "First, fighter planes air policing the Baltic region will be able to use the airfield as their back-up strip. Whenever Šiauliai inLithuania or Ämari in Estonia are unavailable for NATO aircraft, they will be diverted to Lielvārde. F-16 pilots of the Royal Danish Air Force have already notified their interest to test the strip and will soon visit Lielvārde airfield," he added.
"Second, Lielvārde Military Airfield is important for the airlift capability of nations contributing to NATO's enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) battle group Latvia which need to bring their troops, vehicles and equipment to Latvia. Equipment and personnel had to travel through Riga International Airport until now or use the military bases of our neighbours. New facilities at Lielvārde solve this problem," Col Masulis stressed. "We offer a capability to handle D-class allied aircraft that includes C-17 cargo carriers. This is crucial for Latvia as a host country and the whole Alliance and its various operations," Colonel Masulis explained.
Finally, a certified military airfield will be also suitable for unmanned aerial vehicles that need the runway and also aeronavigation and ground services available at Lielvārde. Defence Minister Artis Pabriks hopes that National Armed Force air fleet will soon be reinforced with drones too. "I am looking forward to adding combat drone systems to US and Latvian Black Hawks stationed at Lielvārde," Minister Pabriks said confidently.
"Allied air forces are already showing keen interest in using the upgraded airfield. Lielvārde will soon host US Special Operations troops and aircraft and the Canadian Armed Force Task Force Latvia has also expressed their interest in coming to Lielvārde," noted Colonel Masulis. "In 2022, Europe will host the US Army-led exercise 'Defender and Latvia will also take part in the training. We will have to land all kinds of aircraft from fighter jets to cargo carriers and close air support planes," he added.
Michigan National Guard experts provided assistance during the airfield instrumental flight certification process, lending both its expertise and operational advice. "Our troops supported the project by offering guidance and helping the Latvian Air Force define the scope of the project and cost estimates. I believe this project owes its success to efforts of the Latvian troops. Latvia used its own resources to upgrade the airfield. They basically built Lielvārde Airfield from the ground up,' stressed Major General Paul Rogers, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard and applauded the Latvian Air Force's impressive professional standards.