NATO jets to relocate to Latvia next year as Ämari Air Base gets upgrade

General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in Belgian Air Force service, taxiing at Ämari.
General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon in Belgian Air Force service, taxiing at Ämari. Source:

Through much of 2024, fast jets deployed with the NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission normally based at Ämari will fly from Latvia instead, in order to make way for improvements to the Estonian base.

The state Center for Defense Investments (KIK) is preparing procurement rounds which will see the runway getting a new surface, as well as new maintenance hangars, a new catering complex and also living quarters being put in place.

Storm drains and lighting systems will also need upgrading.

While fast jets will be based in Lielvārde, in central Latvia, while the work is ongoing, spring to autumn 2024, allied transport aircraft will touch down at Tallinn Airport.

Mario Metsoja, infrastructure department portfolio manager at KIK, said the current runway and apron asphalt surface needs replacing – something which must be done every 15 years.

Metsoja said: "Ämari air base has actually been in particularly active use for the last 13 years, while the last major reconstruction work was carried out in 2010."

During that time, the volume of air traffic and base usage has risen, following the changed security situation, first in the aftermath of the Russian annexation of Ukraine in 2014 and the war in Donbas, and again from February 2022 with the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The NATO Baltic Air Policing mission is in any case held by allied nations which have fast jet and other relevant capabilities; Britain's RAF currently holds the role, but as things stand, the base has reached its limit in terms of the numbers of allied personnel it can accommodated, Metsoja added.

For this reason, the refurbishment work needs to be done soon, he added.

Metsoja could not put a figure on the exact procurement cost, but said it would be in the millions of euros, and will last from March to November 2024.

In the meantime, fast jets normally based at Ämari will fly from Lielvārde, Latvia, though this did not spell any difference in Estonia's air security,  chief of staff of the Estonian Air Force (Õhuvägi) Col. Janek Lehiste

"If we look at the size of our countries and the size of our airspace, then in terms of air operations, these differences are so marginal that in terms of operational efficiency, it makes no difference whether we carry out air policing from Ämari or we do so from Lielvārde, in Latvia," Col. Lehiste said.

Helicopters will still be able to take off and land in Ämari during that time.

The other NATO Baltic Air Policing Mission base is at Šiauliai, Lithuaunia.

Located around 40km southwest of Tallinn, Ämari Air Base was built and in use during the Soviet occupation of Estonia, even training some Soviet "Military advisor pilots" who were deployed to North Vietnam, during the U.S. Vietnam War.

NATO allied aircraft to have been hosted at Ämari in recent years include Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning IIs in U.S. and Italian service, F-16s in Belgian service (pictured) and Eurofighter Typhoons, such as those currently there in RAF service.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mirjam Mäekivi

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