Over the next few months we will be bringing you up to date with the changes that have affected the European Air Forces over the past couple of years. It would not have been possible to do this accurately without the great support provided to us by our broad network of correspondents, to which we are indebted. Alan Warnes.

Part One covers Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzogovina, Bulgaria. Croatia. Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia and Finland.


IT IS clear that severe rationalisation will have to take place, and the Albanian Air Force (Forcat Ushtarake Ajore Shqipetaire) plans to trim its structure to a smaller, but more efficient, operation. There are currently six ‘operational’ air bases, and under the Albanian Air Force’s ‘Force’s Objective 2010’ these will be cut to two. Manpower will be reduced to around 400 professionals, releasing the current conscript element, while the front-line equipment will lose the fast jet community. As a result, current pilot training is concentrating on the rotary wing elements.

Albania is keen to join NATO and to play a bigger role in the European Community. In 2000, an Italian military mission to Albania was formed and this has led to a number of surplus Italian military helicopters being transferred to the Albanian Air Force, to re-equip what was formerly 4040 Regiment at Farke.

Farke, formerly just a grass field, is being upgraded with new facilities and is likely to be one of the Air Force’s two main operating sites. The home of the Albanian special forces, it formerly housed the Air Force’s 44 ‘Hound’ helicopters, though today the bulk of the survivors are in varying states of decay. The Mi-4 and Harbin Z-5 were reported to have been retired in 2003, though three examples (6-48, 6-54 and 6-58) are still active, 6-54 having gone through an overhaul at the Air Force’s main maintenance facility at Kocove in early May. Their role is emergency relief, though they will probably see little use now that the bulk of the flying is undertaken by the ‘new’ ex-Italian equipment.

Farke has received seven former Italian Army AB.206C-1S and a number of AB.205As. The former initially wore a slate grey scheme, using the Italian Army three-digit codes as identification. Now the helicopters are being repainted in a dark olive scheme and are serialled 601-607. The AB.205As have only just begun to arrive: the unit currently has two examples, 611 and 612, but expects to receive another four before the end of the year and a seventh example in 2006.

The Air Force Academy at Vlore relinquished its flying aspect in the wake of the 1997 uprising, transferring most of its serviceable Chinese-built Nanchang CJ-6 (Yak-18s) to Kocove. Here they joined the surviving Shenyang F-5 (MiG-17F) and FT-5s (MiG-17UTI), though following the decision to end fast-jet pilot training, very few are still in use, two FT-5s along with two Y-5s (An-2s) and the Z-5 were undergoing overhaul within the maintenance facility during the spring of 2005.

Basic aircrew training instruction is undertaken on the SF-260 in Turkey, while pilots destined for the rotary wing community will complete their training at Frosinone, Italy. Only the academic work is carried out in Albania.

Helped by Turkish expertise and funding, the airfield at Kocove is being upgraded to an acceptable NATO standard. The mountain cavern built to store and protect the aircraft has had to be abandoned on safety grounds and all aircraft which survive are now kept outside. The Air Force’s other underground hangar at Gjader, designed and built by the Chinese, is still very much in use.

At Gjader, 4010 Regiment with its two squadrons of Shenyang F-6 (MiG-19S) and Chengdu F-7A (MiG-21F) was deactivated not long after the 1997 uprising. All the aircraft — 22 F-6s and eight F-7As — are stored in the tunnel complex, and held as an operational reserve. The airfield is supposedly still active, though it is almost certain to be one of the first to be axed in the drive to prune costs.

The final current flying location is at Rinas AB, part of Tirana International Airport. Following the 1997 uprising, this Wing merged with the one at Gjader, but in 2003 the two units were downgraded to Air Detachments, and the one at Gjader was inactivated.

At Rinas, Albania maintains its interceptor capability and three jets usually stand alert here — two fully-armed Shenyang F-6s (eight are on strength), and a single FT-5. The F-6, although fully maintained and ready to scramble if required, has not flown for almost a year since the loss of aircraft c/n 7115 (3-75). The aircrew maintain their MiG currency on the unit’s four FT-5s, three of which -8-08, 8-12 and 8-31 — are maintained on operational strength, with the fourth held in reserve. However, with aircrew only flying between 35 and 40 hours per annum, it remains to be seen just how effective or safe the system is. Surprisingly, the official unit strength at Rinas also includes the Air Force’s sole Harbin H-5 Hong. Although this aircraft remains hangared and has not flown for many years, sources predict that it will be returned to airworthy status when funds become available, as unlikely as it seems.

The Albanian Air Force has identified its priorities, putting a more modern helicopter force at the top of its list. Such a structure is now more or less in place, and the phasing-out of the old inventory is not far away. There is still a requirement for a fixed-wing transport operation, four Y-5s (An-2s) still provide the staple facility at present. These are based at Rinas – their former operating base at Laprake still exists but is now virtually abandoned. Seven withdrawn Y-5s still sit in decaying hangars fenced off from what remains of the airfield. The bulk of the facility, now standing almost in central Tirana, is slowly being redeveloped into a housing and general commerce area.

Despite being small, and somewhat dated in the equipment it operates, the Albanian Air Force is a proud organization doing its best to overcome a lack of investment which does not diminish its professional approach to the task ahead.


IN MAY 2005, the country’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced that the key suggestions contained in last year’s Government ‘Federal Army Reform Commission’ would be implemented as advised. This will mean that the number of personnel in the Austrian Air Force will be halved, reducing the total to 55,000, and that after 2007 a unified Joint Forces Command will be created. The Austrian Air Force would be merged within it as an ‘Air Component’, much on the lines of what has taken place in Belgium. Although an EU member and an active participant in UN, KFOR (Kosovo Forces) and ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) missions, Austria remains neutral only to those needs outside of the European Union. It continues to retain its six-month period of public conscription for every man, along with its only true current operational role — that of peacetime air policing and air surveillance.

Despite left-wing opposition and the fact that the mainstream media are still fiercely opposed to the decision taken in 2002 to buy the Eurofighter Typhoon as a replacement for the Draken, this programme is still very much on track, and is a central tenet of the centre-right Cabinet. In August 2002, the Austrian Government decided to reduce the number of Eurofighters to serve the Uberwachungsgeschwader (Surveillance Wing) at Zeltweg from 24 (plus six options) to 18 (with no options). In April, a (third) audit-report again confirmed the type selection, but questioned the decision to acquire 18 rather than the original RFP.

Austrian pilots will begin training in mid-2006, at the German Eurofighter base at Laage as Austria will have no two-seaters. Training for its pilots (and technicians, at Kaufbeuren from early 2006) was put out to tender, mediated by EADS, and an agreement with the Luftwaffe is due to be signed this summer. When the contract finally became valid under a new Cabinet in August 2003, Tranche 1 aircraft were due for delivery in 2005 (as originally required in 2001). Deliveries of the first four Austrian aircraft are now expected in mid-2007 — from Batch 5 of Tranche 1. Their upgrade to the new T.2’s new mission computer is reported to be covered by the contract.

As only eleven of the 24 Saab 356 Drakens are still airworthy and as they will cease operations this autumn, an interim solution was necessary. In what may have been the fastest type introduction into a modern air arm, 12 leased Swiss F-5Es were contracted for four years in March 2004, sanctioned by the US Congress. As a result, 12 pilots (eight from the Draken and four from the Saab 105) trained on the aircraft at Diibendorf and the first four aircraft were delivered on July 7, 2004 with the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) starting on July 1, 2005. The cost of this wet lease arrangement, with Austrian line maintenance, is just D14 million (E9 million) a year and like the Eurofighter deal does not include any two-seater (F-5Fs) in the package.

It may yet be found impracticable to switch from the 28 remaining Saab 105s to the Eurofighter and — as AEJPT-Eurotraining is very slow -16 new turbo trainers could become necessary. The PC-21 has been named as one possibility for this role.

The current trend towards leaner and more effective forces could mean the loss of the airfield of Hubschrauber-Regiment 2 (Helicopter Regiment 2) at Aigen im Ennstal, where 24 SA.316 Alouette Ills are the predominant type. Despite the type being good for another ten years, its observation and liaison role looks certain to be lost in any re-organisation. Also in need of replacement are the remaining AB.204s and OH-58s: the Eurocopter EC-635 or Agusta AB-139 are possible candidates. Consideration is also being given to increasing the number of S-70A-42 Black Hawks from nine to 12, or even 16.

Two Flieger Regiment 3 AB-212s are based with the Austrian KFOR contingent at Suva Reika in Kosovo, strengthened with Kevlar armour plating around the flying crew’s positions.

In October 2004, the Austrian Air Force signed a mutual partnership deal with Dietrich Mateschitz’s founder of the Red Bull’s ‘Flying Bulls’, aerobatic team based at Salzburg-Airport. His civilian-operated ex-German Air Force Alphajets took on the role of ‘opponents’ in the air defence exercise known as Bubble 04, a development some conservative elements in the MoD were not happy about.


IN JANUARY 2002, a new «unified and joint» structure was created for all the Belgian armed forces, leading to the virtual disappearance of the former services, which then became Operational Components. As a result, the Belgian Air Force lost the independence it was granted in October 1946 and along with it the designation Force Aerienne/ Luchtmach dating from 1947.

On July 1, 2004. the new Belgian Air Component (BAC) gained control of all military flying assets. The main result of this was the integration, under its Air Operational Command (COMOPSAIR), of the former Army’s helicopters and B-Hunter Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).

The most numerous type in service is the F-16, for which Belgium was among the initial customers. A total of 160 F-16 A/Bs were purchased in two batches and delivered between 1979 and 1991: 72 aircraft remain in service, including 15 two-seaters. They equip four front-line squadrons and an Operational Conversion Unit (OCU). By 2015, this number will be reduced to 60. Over the years, the F-16s have undergone various modification programmes, including the Mid-Life Update (MLU), an evolving process which will continue after 2010. Current upgrades allow the use of GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) controlled weapons, a Helmet Mounted Cueing Sight (HMCS) and new advanced short-range missiles.

A truly multi-role fighter, the F-16 is able to take part in operations around the world. Belgian aircraft were involved in the Kosovo war in 1999, were called up at short notice to provide air defence for the Baltic States in 2004, and were deployed to Afghanistan this July as part of the NATO support for the upcoming parliamentary elections. Four Belgian F-16s will fly from Kabul International Airport for six months alongside four Dutch aircraft within the framework of the EEAW (European Participating Air Forces Expeditionary Air Wing), an agreement linking Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and Portugal.

On the transport side, 15 Transport Wing based at Melsbroek has maintained its fleet almost unchanged. The eleven C-130Hs, which have been in service since the early 1970s, have been regularly modernised and updated, and their self-protection systems, for use against radar and IR-guided missiles, are to be improved. They are due to be replaced by seven A400Ms between 2015 and 2018.

Nine other transport aircraft of five different types are flown: two Airbus A310-222s, two Embraer ERJ-135S, two ERJ-145S, two Falcon 20Es and a single Falcon 900B.

Most of Belgium’s military pilot training is being transferred to France: Tours is now the home of Phase III flying training, and Cazaux of Phase IV, within the Advanced Jet Training School (AjeTS). While the air base at Avord is responsible for transport conversion and Dax for helicopter pilots. Only the first two phases (primary and basic) will still be carried out at Beauvechain in Belgium. As a result, most of the Alphajets will move to Cazaux by September.

The last few Fouga CM 170R Magisters are expected to be withdrawn by June 2006. Today, all military helicopters report to COMOPSAIR, even though they still support their original service. This is the case with the former Army’s Groupement d’Aviation L4gere/Groepering Licht Vliegwezen, renamed Wing Heli, which operates 32 multi-role A-109BA Hirundos and a dozen of the last remaining Alouette IIs. Four ageing Sea King Mk.48s from Koksijde AB, used for Search and Rescue (SAR), will soldier on for a few years until they can be replaced. The same fate awaits the three 34-year-old Alouette Ills of the Navy’s helicopter-flight also based at Koksijde.


AS A result of the first State Defence Law accepted by Parliament at the end of 2003, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) received a joint state-level command and control structure the following year, as required to join the NATO Partnership for Peace programme.

The two BiH entities — the Republika Srpska and the (Bosniac and Croat) Federation of BiH – still retain their separate armies, air forces and defence ministries. However, the overall military force — now officially known as the BiH Armed Forces (Oruzane Snage BiH) — had a Joint Staff, Operational Command and Ministry of Defence at state level, the operational chain of command of both forces being established through the Joint Staff and the subordinated Operational Command. The Commander of the Operational Command, the Chairman of the Joint Staff and the State Minister of Defence were each drawn from three different constitutive ethnic groups – Croat, Bosniac and Serb.

However, this system soon turned out to be inefficient and too expensive to maintain. As a result, the country’s top western mediator, High Representative Lord Paddy Ashdown instructed the BiH Defence Reform Commission (DRC) to draft legal changes winding up each individual ministry of defence and its commands this year. In May 2005, local and international members of the DRC agreed that the BiH Armed Forces, with its Operational Command, would get another joint command — the Support Command — to take on responsibility for training, personnel and logistics: this draft must be approved by Parliament later this year. Such a move would virtually mean the end of the current separate armies: the BiH Armed Forces would have three ethnically-distinctive professional brigades (Bosniac, Croat and Serb).

The air forces will be unified and put under state control of BiH. There is expected to be a joint aviation brigade comprising one aviation squadron, one helicopter squadron and some air defence elements, the brigade answering directly to Operational Command. However, lack of funds makes it unlikely that the BiH will operate any fighters for the foreseeable future.

Bosniac and Croat Federation

IN 2004, the Federation Air Force (Zracne Snage Vojske Federacije) was still active, but the 1st Air Group based at Sarajevo-Rajlovac Heliport (1. Zrakoplovna Grupa Sarajevo) and 2nd Air Group at Mostar-Jesenice Heliport (2. Zrakoplovna Grupa Mostar) have been disbanded. There is currently only one Transport Helicopter Sguadron (Skvadron Transportnih Helikoptera). which has 15 UH-1H Hueys, two Mi-8MTV-1 and one Mi-17 Hip utility helicopter at Rajlovac, plus a detachment of two Mi-8MTV-1s at Mostar. However, there is still no overhaul in sight for the Hip: the older Mi-8Ts have been withdrawn from use and the same fate awaits the sole Mi-34 Hermit, leaving the UH-IHs as the only airworthy force. Pilots generally fly 30 hours per year, although instructor pilots accumulate 100 hours.

Republika Srpska

THE REPUBLIKA Srpska Air Force (Ratno Vazduhoplovstvo i Protivvazdusna Odbrana Vojske Republike Srpske) has now disbanded its own Air Force and Air Defence Command. This leaves the 1st Aviation and Air Defence Regiment (1.Puk Vazduhoplovstva i Protivvazdusne Odbrane), with the Fighter-Bomber Squadron (Lovacko-Bombarderska Avijacijska Eskadrila) at Mahovljani AB, and the Composite Helicopter Squadron (Mjesovita Helikopterska Eskadrila) at Zaluzani Heliport, near Banja Luka. The force has a total of 17 combat aircraft: seven attack J-22 Oraos, several versions of light attack/reconnaissance J-21 Jastreb and a single N-62 Super Caleb combat trainer. There are seven HN-45M Gazelle attack helicopters, 15 HO-42/45 Gazelle liaison helicopters, and eleven Mi-8T transport helicopters. Lack of funds means that the operational condition of all these aircraft is low, as are the pilots’ flying hours.


THE BULGARSKI Voennovazdushni Sili (Bulgarian Air Force, BuAF) currently maintains a fleet of some two dozen MiG-21bis/UMs Fishbeds and 20 MiG-29 Fulcrums fighters, though serviceability is at a fairly low level due to problems in obtaining spare engines and other parts. The plan for returning the 20-strong BuAF MiG-29 fleet to service with a limited NATO/ICAO avionics upgrade has run into a number of difficulties since its launch in September 2001. During the first stage, RSK-MiG was committed to deliver six structurally-upgraded aircraft with refurbished engines and accessory gearboxes, these materialising in late September that year. However, the follow-on stage, comprising the upgrade to NATO/ICAO requirements of 20 MiG-29s, never progressed beyond the paper stage, and eventually the Bulgarian Ministry of Defence cancelled the contract. A much more modest ‘serviceability restoration’ contract, with no avionics upgrade, was drawn up early this year, covering 16 aircraft, and should be finalised by August 2005.

The out-dated MiG-21bis is still Bulgaria’s most numerous air defence fighter, though its days appear to be numbered. Current airframe/engine life limits and spare parts availability mean that normal flying activity is likely to continue until around late 2006.

The Su-25 Frogfoot is the only dedicated strike type in the BuAF inventory following the withdrawal of the Su-22M4 Fitter in May 2004, and is expected to remain in active use until 2007-2009. The Su-25K serves with two squadrons of the 25th Attack Airbase at Bezmer. An unimpressive number of the 39 aircraft on strength are considered to be in serviceable condition. Some six, including two twin-seaters, underwent a small-scale upgrade of their navigation suites in 2003-2004 in order to comply with the NATO and ICAO compatibility required for taking part in exercises and missions abroad.

The most ambitious plan is for a new multi-role fighter procurement programme, expected to be launched late this year. The new combat aircraft will replace three current types — the MiG-21, MiG-29 and Su-25 — and an in-service entry date of 2008-2009 is aimed at, so a contract would have to be signed in late 2005 or early 2006. Preference is currently being given to acquiring new aircraft, and a number of offers for second-hand fighters have been declined. Three candidates are considered to have a fairly good chance — the Block 52+ F-16, F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and JAS 39 Gripen.

In November and December 2004, the BuAF took delivery of six Pilatus PC-9M turbo trainers ordered in December 2003. These are on strength with the 12th Training Airbase at Kamenec and are believed to represent the first batch of a total order of 12 PC-9Ms. Newly-delivered, and fitted with the latest avionics, they are regarded as the most advanced examples of the cost-effective turboprop family and will be used for initial, basic and — to some extent — advanced student pilot training.

On April 6, 2005, the Bulgarian Government announced that the C-27J Spartan had been selected as the next new transport aircraft. It will replace five An-26s currently on strength with the air force (only two of which are maintained in airworthy condition). These are used mainly to maintain the air bridge between Sofia and Baghdad, supporting the Bulgarian Army’s 500-strong military contingent in Iraq, as well as in Kabul, Afghanistan. The contract, expected to be signed in August, covers procurement of a total of eight C-27Js for a total price of around Euros 200 million (£135 million), the first two to be delivered by the end of 2006.

On March 8, 2005, Bulgaria’s Defence Minister, Nikolay Svinarov, formally terminated Bulgaria’s controversial helicopter avionics upgrade and airframe/engine airworthiness restoration programme. The official reason was given as the «inability by the candidates to fulfil the pre-set requirements before awarding the public procurement tender». Elbit Systems of Israel had been selected in a tender covering upgrade of six Mi-17 tactical transport helicopters and 12 Mi-24D/V attack helicopters, which was subsequently cancelled.

A contract covering the delivery of eight AS 532AL Cougar helicopters for utility transport, plus four more Combat SAR-equipped Cougars, was signed on January 28 this year by the Bulgarian MoD and Eurocopter. The Cougars are slated to replace 12 of the 18 Mi-17s now in service with the BuAF. The total value of the package has not been publicly disclosed, but according to Sofia’s Darik Radio, it is priced at Euro 358 million (which also includes six AS 565 MB Panther ship-based helicopters for the Bulgarian Navy, intended to replace the Mi-14PL). Delivery of the first three Cougars is expected in mid-to-late 2006.

Meanwhile, by mid/late 2004, the BuAF had managed to restore the serviceability of its six Bell 206B-3 fleet, which it uses for training and liaison. By the end of that year, it had sold its Bell 430 VIP helicopter, delivered brand-new in July 2000, for US $3.2 million.


AFTER A few years of slow progress brought about by the economic situation which followed the war years of 1991-1995, the Croatian Air Force (Hrvatsko Ratno Zrakoplovstvo, HRZ) recently found the funds to overhaul and upgrade several aircraft types. These steps were necessary as the existing inventory was acquired during that war, and the upgrades will bring Croatia’s fleet closer to NATO standards.

This series of upgrades started in 2003 with the overhaul of eight MiG-21bis and four MiG-21UM Fishbeds. After this, in two batches, a total of 18 Mi-8 and Mi-17 Hips were completely overhauled and repainted by Ukrainian and Croatian specialists. Most recently, two An-32 Clines were upgraded in late 2004, again with Ukrainian help. The latest development is a possible purchase of 15 Mi-17 paid against Russian debt.

The vital fire-fighting unit (855 PZE) has received a fourth Canadair CL415 (serial 877), while the two older CL215s have been sold. The loss of one Air Tractor AT-802F means that only one now remains in service, nowhere near the number required. There have been reports of possible interest in the Beriev Be 200 fire-fighter, but despite a demonstration by Beriev last summer, no decisions have been made. In order to give enough flight time to newly-graduated jet pilots, three PC-9s have been moved to Pula Air Base, and another recent change is the use of PC-9s for coast guard duties. As yet, no Coast Guard service exists in Croatia and civilian helicopters do not have the range to carry out Search and Rescue (SAR) activities along the Dalmatian coast. Consequently, during this summer’s tourist season, HRZ will provide a few Mi-8s for such duties, releasing five Mi-8/Mi-17 for SAR around the coastline. The problem of finding a new basic trainer remains as the UTVA-75s have reached the end of their operational life-span. Meanwhile, both radar systems — the Lockheed Martin FPS-117 and the Peregrine coastal radar — are now fully operational.


THIS YEAR the Czech Air Force (CzAF — Ceske Letectvo A Pvo) has undergone the most significant changes it has seen during the 13-year history of the independent Czech state. Introduction of the fourth generation JAS 39C/D Gripen into the NATINADS (NATO Air Defence System) and delivery of the brand-new Mi-35 and Mi-171Sh helicopters make it one of the most modern air forces in Central Europe.

The first six JAS 39C Gripens landed at Caslav AB on April 26, 2005, piloted by three Czech and three Swedish pilots. The first eight Czech pilots are now fully operational in the air-to-air combat role, so the new aircraft was on duty with NATINEADS by July 1, 2005. Although the Czech Gripens are armed only with Mauser 27mm guns and AIM-9L/M Sidewinders obtained from the US for the L-159A/Gripen fleet, a deal for delivery of AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles has already been signed. Another six JAS 39Cs, plus two two-seater JAS 39Ds, will arrive in Caslav by the end of August.

The Gripens replace the MiG-21MFNs, marking the end of Czech service for the MiG-21 Fishbed after more than 40 years. A total of 467 MiG-21s, in several different versions, served the Czechoslovakian Air Force, and then the CzAF. The last landing of a single-seat MiG-21MFN took place on July 12, 2005 at Prerov AB, when four MiG-21MFNs and one two-seater MiG-21UM arrived from Caslav. They will be kept in store until a buyer is found.

Another modern addition to the CzAF is the indigenous Aero L-159A ALCA, which equips 212 Tactical Squadron. The type is mainly dedicated to the air-to-ground mission and to intercepting slow-moving air targets. The CzAF plans to keep 18 L-159As, plus another six in reserve, for future use — the remaining 71 aircraft will be offered for sale. Some sources suggest that a limited number of the two-seat version L-159B Albatros II could be delivered from Aero.

All combat helicopters are based at Prerov. The resident 231 Attack Helicopter Squadron uses a fleet of Mi-24Vs Hind and a single Mi-24DU trainer. Seven new Mi-24Vs were delivered to Prerov in 2002/2003 and another three of ten new Hinds which constitute Russian debt repayments to the Czech Republic, were delivered this April. Although these helicopters have been designed as the Mi-35 by the Rostvertol company, they differ very little from the Mi-24V. When the seven new helicopters are delivered by the end of 2006, all the ‘old’ Mi-24D/Vs will be offered for sale. The Czechs plan to use 18 Hinds in the future.

A major boost in the performance of the transport helicopter fleet came with the delivery of new Mi-171Shs to the 232 Transport Helicopter Squadron. After assembly in Pardubice and testing in Praha-Kbely, the first arrived at Prerov on June 26, followed by another two the next day. Eight of the Mi 171Shs will be equipped with a rear hydraulic ramp, and all 16 have a wide right-hand-side door. Although only 16 Mi-171Shs will be delivered by the end of 2006, the CzAF aims eventually to fly 18 transport helicopters. The squadron also operates a flight of W-3A Sokols. dedicated to Search and Rescue (SAR) missions, covering the East Czech and Moravian territories.

No.233 SAR Squadron comes under command of Prerov’s 23 Helicopter Base, but is stationed at Plzen-Line with W-3A Sokols. Its helicopters serve a similar purpose to those at Prerov and are rotated with the SAR flight based there.

In the near future, both the Mi-24/35s and Mi-171Shs will be modernised in the Czech Republic to meet all the necessary missions within the NATO dedicated forces. The whole of Prerov’s helicopter fleet will soon be relocated to Namest nad Oslavou AB, which is currently being modernised and rebuilt.

The transport fleet, in particular, is starting to show its age. The two Russian Tu-154Ms will not be allowed to land at most Western European airports next year due to noise regulations, and the single CL-601 Challenger is no longer reliable, having made several emergency landings in the last two years — mostly with VIPs on board! The Government has opted to buy or lease new aircraft as soon as possible to replace the CzAF’s Challenger, Tu-154M and Yak-40. The An-26 Curl transport aircraft is also likely to be replaced in the near future, the most probable candidates being the CN-235, C-295 or C-27J Spartan.

All training is carried out by the civilian Government-owned company LOM Praha, at the CLV (Centrum Leteckeho Vycviku — Air Training Centre) at Pardubice. It begins on the piston-engined Zlin Z-142CAF, after which future fighter pilots continue on the L-39C Albatros. Those destined for helicopters are trained on the Mi-2 Hoplite, and transport pilots on the L-410. Although the instruction is carried out by civilians, the aircraft used are owned by the armed forces.


IN 2005 the Danish Air Force (Flyvevabnet, DAF) is heavily involved in completing the transition from a traditional garrison air force to a new expeditionary air force set-up. In future, the DAF will be able to fight where there is a need for it, and the way the world looks today the need is outside Denmark. The DAF has undergone major changes in recent years, and more will come in the immediate future, even before the transition process is completed. A new Defence Act covering the years 2005-2009 has been agreed by the Danish Parliament, setting out the end goal for the future organisational structure and operational capabilities.

During the 2005-2007 timeframe, the DAF will adopt a new Wing structure which will strengthen the operational side, as its commanders will be able to concentrate on operational aspects and not have to expend valuable resources on support functions such as administration, logistics, etc. A total of five wings reporting directly to TACDEN (Tactical Air Command Denmark, or Flyvertaktisk Kommando) will be implemented, each concentrating on specific capabilities as follows:

— Skrydstrup Wing (Fighters)

— Alborg Wing (Transports and Maritime Surveillance)

— Karup Wing (Helicopters and Flying school)

— Combat Support Wing (Deployable support functions)

— Air Control Wing (Fixed and mobile radar control and reporting centres)

Skrydstrup Wing will control two front-line F-16A/B MLU squadrons. Eskadrille (Esk) 727 and 730, as well as a smaller F-16 operational conversion unit. Each F-16 squadron will have 24 Fighting Falcons, a considerably larger number than previously. The Danish F-16 fleet will receive further capability upgrades through the acquisition of AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles, a Helmet Mounted Cueing System and Link 16 data-link.

Alborg Wing will control Esk 721, which currently has three C-130J Hercules delivered during 2004, three CL.604 Challengers specially equipped for maritime surveillance and a few T-17 used for liaison. A fourth C-130J has been contracted for delivery by 2007. The single F-16 squadron at Alborg, Esk 726, will be disbanded at an unspecified date. The Alborg-based F-16s will be distributed among the two Skrydstrup units.

Karup Wing will control all DAF helicopter assets (Esk 722 and 724) and the T-17 equipped Flying School. Esk 722 will soon begin to replace its eight elderly S-61A Sea King SAR helicopters with 14 new EH.101 Merlins, also adopting a TTT (Tactical Troop Transport) role. According to the original plans, the first Merlins should have been delivered to Denmark in August 2004, but this has been delayed for at least a year due to problems fulfilling required specifications. Funding has been made available to convert four EH.101 Merlins into the maritime variant for operations on board Danish Navy vessels. Esk 724 will retire its fleet of Hughes 500 helicopters this year, and reduce its number of operational AS.550C2 Fennecs from 12 to eight (losing the Fennecs’ HeliTOW anti-armour capability in the process).

Also at Karup, the Savcernets Helikoptertjeneste (Naval Helicopter Service) with eight Super Lynx helicopters, which deploy operationally on board Danish Navy inspection vessels, is supported operationally by the Karup Wing. Previously named Scvaernets Flyvetjeneste, the unit was originally planned to adopt the designation Esk 728 and transfer to air force control, but has instead remained under navy control and changed its name to Sovaernets Helikoptertjeneste.

Combat Support Wing is a completely new unit in the DAF, established as a single organisational structure to control all the support functions needed when its operational units deploy on international missions. The Wing has been based on lessons learned during previous deployments of Danish F-16 fighters and C-130s on international operations in Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, and will be a deployable force with capabilities such as combat communications, force protection, logistics, medical treatment, headquarters staff, etc.

One of the more drastic results of the new Defence Act was that the DAF has been forced to completely disband its newly-updated DE-HAWK (Danish Enhanced) ground-based air defence SAM units (three squadrons) in January 2005, due to budgetary reasons.

The changes in Flyvevlbnet organisation and equipment have also resulted in alterations to Denmark’s contribution to NATO’s Response Forces, with future allocations for international operations as follows:

— 16 F-16 multi-role fighters (eight on high readiness and a further eight on low readiness)

— Three C-130J in the heavy-lift transport role (one on high readiness and occasionally a further two on low readiness)

— Four EH.101 helicopters in the tactical troop transport role

— Four Fennec helicopters in the observation and liaison role

— Up to four Lynx helicopters in the maritime support role on board Danish Navy vessels.


THE ESTONIAN Air Force (Eesti Ohuvagi) consists of an Air Force Headquarter (Ohuvaestaap), an Air Surveillance Division (Ohuseiredivisjon) and an Air Base (Lennubaas), located at Amari, south-west of Tallinn. The Lennubaas houses a small flying element that provides limited, non-combat support to the Estonian land forces, organised within the Flying Squadron (Lennu Eskadril).

Flying equipment currently consists of two An-2 Colt biplanes, one PZL-104 Wilga and four Robinson R44 helicopters (two are R44 Ravens equipped with Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) sensor, TV camera and searchlight, and two are R44 Clippers equipped with floatation gear). A pair of ex-Estonian Home Guard (Eesti SLK) An-2s are thought to have been transferred to Air Force control as they seem to be based at Amari and operate alongside the two Air Force An-2s. The total personnel of the Estonian Air Force is only approximately 200.

Estonia joined NATO on March 29. 2004, together with Latvia and Lithuania, and its armed forces have struggled hard to comply with NATO standards and doctrines, despite a very limited defence budget. As the operation of modern fighter aircraft is far beyond the economic reach of the Estonian Air Force, the mandatory air policing of Estonian air space is carried out by its NATO allies. Since the Baltic nations joined NATO, other allied nations have deployed fighter aircraft to Zokniai air base in Lithuania on a rotational basis, undertaking air policing above Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania from the base. In Estonia, NATO fighters can land at Tallinn International Airport if required, though Amari air base is currently not suited to fast-jet operations.

NATO has requested Estonia to build up an air policing capability, but the acquisition even of small jets such as the Aero L-39/L-159 family, or used Saab 105s from Sweden, is considered highly unrealistic for financial reasons. At present the only possible alternative is for fighter aircraft from allied nations to carry out air policing missions over Estonia. Consequently, the development of Amari air base to fully NATO interoperable minimum standards, according to the Host Nation Support concept, has a high priority, as it will enable modern air defence fighters to operate from there.

Amari is an ex-Soviet Su-24 Fencer base, and has suffered from poor maintenance since its USSR days. The runway and taxiways need renovation, and logistic and air traffic management capabilities reguire upgrade. Thus far, a new modern control tower has been built, and two of the old Soviet-constructed hardened aircraft shelters converted into modern helicopter hangars. Each can house a pair of R44s, as this small helicopter has a two-bladed rotor.

National air space surveillance is secured by the BALTNET system, a network of air space surveillance and control stations developed jointly by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. BALTNET is now fully integrated with NATINADS, the NATO Integrated Air Defence System.

Search and rescue is not part of the Estonian Air Force mission, but is carried out by the Estonian Border Guard Aviation Group (Piirivalve Lennusalk), a civil institution flying two Let 410UVP. one Schweizer 300C and four Mi-8 Hip helicopters extensively modified for search and rescue (SAR) operations, Mi-8 SAR readiness is maintained at Tallinn and Parnu.


THE YEAR 2005 will see many changes in the Finnish Air Force (llmavoimat). What were previously only plans will become reality, and the latest Defence White Paper released at the end of autumn 2004 defined additional roles and duties for the Finnish AF. At the same time, major budgetary cuts are affecting the country’s Defence Forces, the Air Force getting its fair share.

The latest Defence White Paper defines the wartime strength of the Air Force at around 35,000 personnel, working amongst the four fighter sguadrons, a support sguadron, the main bases and intelligence, surveillance and base units.

A major restructuring of the training systems and other functions has taken place this year. The Finnish Air Force Academy has been relocated from Kauhava AB to Tikkakoski AB and its support squadron integrated as part of the Air Force Academy at Tikkakoski, Kauhava AB has now retained its old name, Lentosotakoulu, (Training Air Wing). Tikkakoski and its garrison has for some time been the centre for all the Air Force’s academic and cadet training, so the title of Finnish Air Force Academy is now thought more appropriate for it. All the Hawk MK 51s and MK 51As will be centralised with the Training Air Wing at Kauhava, meaning that the Fighter Squadrons will lose their Hawks. The Training Air Wing will then operate all the Finnish Air Force Hawks. As a result, basic flight training and the Vinka basic trainers will be relocated to Tikkakoski this autumn and Vinka operations will be contracted out to Patria Aviation Ltd. As Kauhava is now in charge of both basic and tactical jet training, it has become one of Europe’s biggest military jet training centres, with some 50 Hawks in service. The Finnish AF is also offering Kauhava and the wide expanse of airspace around it to other European countries for training purposes.

Transport aircraft renewal programmes continue. A request for offers has been sent out to EADS/Casa and Lockheed/Alenia for C-295 and C-27J respectively: both types are currently under evaluation by Finnish Air Force test pilots and engineers. New transport aircraft are urgently needed as the only such aircraft in the inventory is the sole F.27-400M, which by now has probably accumulated more flying hours than any other F.27 in the world. The liaison aircraft renewal programme has been postponed for budgetary reasons, but this is another urgent requirement. The seven PA-28 Arrows were retired by the end of 2004, but the fleet of PA-31-350 Chieftains soldiers on, despite being in urgent need of replacement. L-90TP Redigo still provide good service but the whole fleet is for sale. A new type to replace the current liaison aircraft fleet will, hopefully, be selected by 2008. In future, air transportation capacity will be increased by procuring two or three heavier transport aircraft, which will be needed during the next decade to provide better support for domestic operations and for troops during international deployments. The procurement options will be studied. The increase in transportation capacity will also enhance the Defence Forces’ ability to support civil interests along with humanitarian missions.

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