Allied fighter jets to temporarily move from Estonia to Latvia next spring

Allied fighter jets to temporarily move from Estonia to Latvia next spring. Ämari Air Base.
Allied fighter jets to temporarily move from Estonia to Latvia next spring. Ämari Air Base. Photo: Konstantin Sednev

Life at Amari Air Base will become quieter from March next year, as the Baltic Air Policing mission operated from Estonia will be temporarily moved to Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia, whereas Amari will undergo renovations during which only helicopters will fly out of the air base, Postimees reports.

«Hopefully, this construction will last for two air policing rotations -- from March to December,» Peeter Kuimet, head of the international cooperation department at the Ministry of Defense, told Postimees. «We do not want to shut down the additional air policing, which was brought to Amari in 2014, during this time. We will move it to Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia.»

Kuimet said that the relocation of the mission to Latvia and the agreement with Germany, which will cover the two rotations with its fighter jets, was already finalized in the spring of this year.

«It is not a very simple project in the sense that the Latvians have not used Lielvarde before as an air policing base operating 24/7 and 365 days a year, nor do they plan to use it like this in the future,» Kuimet admitted. «This is partly due to the resources and priorities of the Latvian Air Force and partly because it is not necessarily essential to conduct air policing from all three countries at once, considering the distances and speeds of aircraft.»

«Prior to 2014, our strategy for Amari Air Base was focused on accommodating a single three-month rotation annually. Outside of these periods, the Air Force was intended to have downtime for recuperation,» Kuimet recalled.

In 2014, following the illegal annexation of Crimea and the onset of Russian aggression in Eastern Ukraine, Estonia changed its mind. Despite higher costs, it was decided that the air policing mission from Amari could operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

«But it still required recruiting more people, overtime, and changing work regulations, as well as the corresponding infrastructure,» Kuimet noted.

Hosting NATO fighters temporarily at Lielvarde also requires infrastructure development by Latvia. However, the country will receive temporary help from Germany, which is contributing with its fighters, and some items and personnel from Estonia.

«In the end, it is more sensible to temporarily move these things there, rather than the Latvians having to buy them. There are some costs involved for us, but they are smaller than what we would otherwise have in Amari. So, it is a beneficial project for everyone,» Kuimet explained. «Our contribution includes some movable infrastructure elements - shelters, hangars, T-walls, and some other bits and pieces.»

«There won't be a massive migration of people from Amari to Lielvarde, as the Latvians already have some things and some things will be done by Germany. In terms of air traffic control, it has to be done by the Latvians in their airspace, as they know the airspace, the legislation, the language. It's not exactly transferable one-to-one,» Kuimet added.

During the construction, the Estonian Air Force plans to use the time to give personnel holidays and have them undergo additional training.

Currently, under the Baltic air policing mission, Amari hosts eight Spanish Eurofighters while Zokniai in Lithuania has four Italian aircraft of the same type.