Sept.25, the opening ceremony of the Air Force Aviation Base airfield for day and night visual flight operations was held in Lielvārde. It means that helicopters and small and medium aircrafts will be able to land at Lielvārde airfield in accordance with the visual flight rules and without using any additional navigation systems.
The opening ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Latvia Laimdota Straujuma, the Minister of Defence Raimonds Vējonis, the Chief of Defence Lt.Gen. Raimonds Graube, and the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe General Sir Adrian Bradshaw, who came to Latvia to attend the NATO exercises “Steadfast Pyramid 2014” and “Steadfast Pinnacle 2014”.
The opening ceremony was also attended by the Lithuanian and Estonian Air Force leadership, as well as the Portuguese and Canadian commanders from contingents patrolling the NATO airspace over the Baltic States to demonstrate the close cooperation and to congratulate the Commander of the Air Force Aviation Base Col.Aivars Mežors with the significant event regarding the development of the base.
After the airfield’s opening ceremony the runway of Lielvārde airfield was used for the first time by four military aircrafts – two Portuguese F-16 and two Canadian CF-188.
“Today, opening airfield Lielvārde for day and night flight operations, we can be proud of implementing one of National Armed Forces development project. This long-term project`s goal has been to create NATO and national-standard airfield, as well as a modern and multifunctional military base,” in her opening speech said Laimdota Straujuma, the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the financial investments of NATO and national funding into airfield`s development has served as a significant investment for Latvian entrepreneurs - the companies have been able to demonstrate their professionalism and willingness to engage in large-scale projects.
“This year marks ten years since Latvia joined the strongest military alliance in the world and during this period we have implemented one of the National Armed Forces long-term development projects to construct the Air Forces military base in Lielvārde,” emphasized Raimonds Vējonis, the Minister of Defence. “The development of Lielvārde airfield once again confirms that Latvia’s priority is not the development of new military bases, but improving, upgrading and adapting the already existing infrastructures to the high standards of NATO.”
“This is a great day for the Armed Forces, the Air Force Aviation Base, Latvia and for the entire Alliance — Lielvārde airfield has become militarily operational for conducting the tasks we have set for ourselves to defend our country, and what has been set by our membership in the Alliance,” said Lt.Gen. Raimonds Graube, the Chiefof Defence.
The Commander reminded that the airfield has already been tested three weeks ago – the exercise “Steadfast Javelin II” took place here in early September, when strategic transport aircrafts, that brought armoured vehicles from Ramstein to Latvia, landed in Lielvārde during the night in visual landing mode. “This is the most important evidence of our and the Alliance’s ability to provide a rapid arrival of the allied forces in the territory of Latvia, if it is necessary. We can learn from the crisis in Ukraine that the time is crucial in these situations, and the ability to welcome allies as soon as possible is a very significant defence capability,” said the Lt.Gen. R. Graube.
Gen. Adrian Bradshaw, the Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, emphasised the importance of the exercise “Stedfast Javelin II” in testing the capabilities of the Allies and Lielvārde airfield.
“This day marks a significant step in the development of operational capabilities, which are very important for NATO, especially in the current security situation. We have already confirmed that the exercises carried out by NATO in Latvia and also in Lielvārde are part of the support measures; it was also proven by the exercise “Steadfast Javelin II”, where participated many NATO member states. It proves once again that the Alliance perceives the collective defence and Article 5 as a rock solid,” said the Gen. A. Bradshaw.
Gen.A. Bradshaw admitted that the development of Lielvārde airfield gives NATO a big potential and that more NATO military exercises will be held in the Baltic States, including the Lielvārde airfield. Along with the improvement of the infrastructure and development of military capabilities, Latvia demonstrates a strong commitment to follow the principles of collective defence and its willingness to invest in collective defence.
From 2009 till 2013, a sizeable NATO-funded construction of infrastructures — runway, taxiing routes, platforms, sites, buildings — took place at Lielvārde airfield, fencing of the base and construction of the patrol road in the length of 22 km was also carried out; improvements of the base general infrastructure are currently being implemented, and the construction of the aviation fuel storage has been commenced.
Between 2006 and 2013, approximately 27 mil. euros from the NATO resources and approximately 55.4 mil. euros from the national funding have been invested in the development of the airfield project.
The development of the National Armed Forces Air Force Aviation Base “Lielvārde” is a long-term project of the Armed Forces and Latvia will have an airfield suitable to NATO and national standards, as well as a modern and multifunctional military base which is necessary for the National Armed Forces in order to properly fulfil their tasks to ensure the national defence, implement the support measures of NATO operations, and carry out the maintenance of the NATO air policing aircrafts.