Runway Boom in the Baltics

Riga, Latvia—Three Air Force C-130Js from the 37th Airlift Squadron at Ramstein AB, Germany, became the first Air Force airplanes to land at the newly renovated Lielvarde Air Base in Latvia. During the June 17 mission, the transport aircraft brought in some 92 airmen from Ramstein’s 435th Contingency Response Group, who will train at the base during the final week of NATO’s Saber Strike 2014 exercise, according to an Air Force release. During an interview from his office here on June 12, Latvian Defense Chief Lt. Gen. Raimonds Graube told Air Force Magazine Lielvarde is now open five days a week, eight hours a day, but the goal is to get to 24/7 operations in 2016. “The baseline capabilities of the air base are to be a two- to four-ship fighter detachment and [do] basic host-nation support functions,” said Graube. “How best to invest in added capabilities and the procurement and training to support it is a critical decision for the Latvian government,” he said. “With [Latvia’s] limited resources, the millions required to develop a fully functional 24/7 air base would critically hinder Latvia in development of capabilities that meet the actual national defense plan and deployed coalition operational requirements,” he said. With the opening of Lielvarde, there are now three runways available to NATO aircraft operating in the Baltic region.