Lithuanian Air Force Base at Šiauliai to Host 53rd NATO Detachment

The 53rd rotation of NATO’s Baltic Air Policing fighter detachments from the Spanish and the Royal Air Force will be executing the Allied peacetime mission out of Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania from May 1.

“It has been 16 years already since Lithuania joined NATO and since then we hosted 17 different nations and 52 mission rotations,” said Lieutenant Colonel Antanas Matutis, Commander of the Šiauliai Air Base. “With the variety of different aircraft types we had to host, it has been a challenge but at the same time our duty and honour to be responsible for successful execution of the NATO Air Policing mission from our base. With many ongoing projects we intend to keep the base operational and well maintained not only for Baltic Air Policing, but for any mission of the Alliance,” he added.

The Lithuanian government built Šiauliai Air Base in 1931 and used for military aviation activities. The Soviet Union annexed the base in 1940, occupied it from 1941 to 1944, and continued to operate it after the war.

A NATO AWACS plane and Swedish and Finnish fighter jets at the Šiauliai Air Base, Lithuania for a NATO flying exercise. Photo Cynthia Vernat.

Already in 1955, the airbase was one of only six air bases in the Soviet Union capable of handling the Myasishchev M-4 bomber. By 1957 two runways with a length of 3,500 meters each were built. The base dimensions and structure allowed it to be an alternate landing site for the Soviet spacecraft “Buran”. Besides a variety of bombers and transport aircraft, fast jets were also based here. Between 1960 and 1970 Šiauliai was home to MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighter jets.

When the last Soviet troops left the base in 1993 the Lithuanian Air Force took it over and continued flying operations from here. Today, the main runway is still 3,500 m long, while the alternate runway is about 3,200 m long. Almost all aircraft of the Lithuanian Air Force operate out of Šiauliai; this is why it is officially called Lithuanian Air Force Air Base.

The Lithuanian Air Force has their C-27J “Spartan” and the Letov L-410 transport aircraft deployed here; besides that the base is the home to Eurocopter AS365 SAR helicopters and the Mi-8 transport helicopters. The manning of the base varies from time to time. At the moment approx. 400 Lithuanian military and civilian service members provide base operations.

The Air Base’s structure includes a headquarters as well as an air operations and an operations support group. It also features all necessary Quick Reaction Alert (Intercept) facilities used by Allied fighter detachments to conduct NATO Air Policing. base consists of HQ, Air operation group and Operational support group.

Since April 2004, NATO Allies have been deploying their fighter aircraft to Šiauliai underlining Allied solidarity, cohesion and readiness to conduct peacetime collective defence.

Story by NATO Allied Air Command/Lithuanian Air Force Air Base

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