The Lithuanian Air Force is set to purchase one to three second-hand Aero Vodochody L-39ZA Albatros light attack and advanced training aircraft, sources within the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence confirmed in April 2014.
The small air force (Lietuvos karinės oro pajėgos or LK KOP) of the Baltic state is in desperate need for additional combat-ready jet trainers, to keep its pilot’s flying skills current. There is only one such jet aircraft available, after a second L-39ZA already in service crashed after a mid-air collision with a French Air Force (Armée de l’Air) Mirage 2000C on 30 August 2011. Fortunately no lives were lost in the accident, with both crew members ejecting okay. An additional two L-39Cs are solely used for flight training only.
Sources within the Defence ministry say they’re aiming to purchase at least one L-39ZA in 2015 or 2016, but hope to cut a nice deal with a current user for possible one or two more. However, since the department also expressed wishes to replace the fleet of nine Mi-8 Hip helicopters for newer models, a lot will depend on available funds. Lithuania already started the chopper modernisation process by ordering three Airbus Helicopter (Eurocopter) AS365 N3 Dauphins for the two of five Mil Mi-8T search-and-rescue tasked choppers on alert in Nemirseta and Kaunas.
Close air support
With Russian pressure on eastern Europe rising since February this year, additional L-39ZAs could be a relatively cheap way to bolster the close air support capabilities of the Armed Forces of Lithuania. Having now only one such fixed-wing aircraft and only a limited number of slow-flying helicopters available, Lithuania is depending much on NATO to help in times of need – with a rotating but permanent NATO combat detachment at Lithuania’s only fully capable air base: Šiauliai in the northwest of the country.
Since the beginning of this year ten US Air Force F-15C Eagle air-supiority fighters from RAF Lakenheath in England provide the Baltic states Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with combat air coverage. The Baltic Air Policing mission that rotates amongst NATO member states has been beefed up after Russia took over the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine and has been pressuring that country ever since. From May the force will expand to a dozen fighter jets spread over two air bases: Šiauliai AB in Lithuania (main base) and Ämari AB in Estonia. Skrydstryp in Denmark and likely Malbork and/or Miñsk Mazowiecki in Poland serve as back-up locations.
© 2014 AIRheads’ editor Marcel Burger
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