During Soviet occupation, the Baltic Soviet Republic of Lithuania was not allowed to have its own military flying units. Since Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia declared themselves independent, they had to establish their own air defence. Although equipped with fighter aircraft, Lithuania houses the largest air arm of the three Baltic states.
Birth of an Air Force
On January 17th, 1991, the Savanoriskoji Krasto Apsaugos Tarnyba (Voluntary Border Defence Service, or Border Guard) was established. This can be considered as a first step to establish its own air defence since Soviet occupation. However, the Soviets were still present at this time and it took till September 6th, 1991 until the Soviets recognised the country as an independent state.
Soon after, on October 16th, the Krasto Apsaugos Ministerjia (Ministry of Defence) was established, creating the Karo Aviacijos Tarnyba (Military Aviation Service, later known as Air Force) on January 2nd, 1992. During these days, no aircraft were assigned to the Aviation Service. This changed a few months later on April 27th, 1992, when operations started at the civil airfield of Barysiai, becoming the 1st Aviacija Baze (1st Aviation Base). This airfield was used by two dozen civil Antonov An-2s of which 20 were implemented into the Aviation Service, immediately being painted with the insignia last used before the Soviet occupation, the Vycio Kryzius (Vytis Cross). The I.Transporto Eskadrile (I.TE, 1st Transport Squadron) was born. And finally, on June 12th, the first operational flight of a military An-2 was made from Barysiai. The early pilots came from former Soviet flying units, like the commander during that time, Colonel Z. Vegelevicius, and from civil agricultural aircraft. To maintain their flying skills, not only were An-2 aircraft flown, but civil aircraft, like the Yak-18T and Yak-52, were also flown out of Pociunai. No jet aircraft where available at the time yet.
With the withdrawal of the Soviet troops from Zokniai in June 1993, a huge airbase became available for operations. This happened just on time because with presence of two Let L-410UVP Turbolets (which arrived on March 3rd, 1993), four L-39Cs and 20 An-2s, Barysiai became overloaded. It took until December 1994 before the KOP left Barysiai for Zokniai (becoming the 1st Air Base). By that time only a small shelter area was used. This changed in 2000 when the Air Force started to use two hangars and a headquarters was established at the airfield.
Plans also existed to establish units at two other former Soviet airbases, Pajuostis and Kazlu Ruda. Pajuostis is now known as the 2nd Air Base, while Kazlu Ruda is no longer a military airfield since July 1st, 2000.
The Border Guard operates two squadrons with a variety of propeller driven aircraft, most of them formerly belonging to the DOSAAF . Their main task is border patrol, just like the German Bundesgrenzshutz. Two airfields, both also former DOSAAF, are in use by the Savanoriskoji Krasto Apsaugos Tarnyba (SKAT): Kyviskes in the east, near the border of Belarussia, and Silute, near the Baltic coast. During mid 1999, the SKAT re-organised too and the name was changed to Krasto Apsaugos Savanriskos Pajegos (KASP).
Due to the state of some Antonov An-2s acquired at the foundation, most of the An-2s were withdrawn from use during the last decade. Only four remain in actual service, after returning from a major overhaul from either Kaunas Aviation, or Panevezio Aviacija. Initially, at each airbase, two An-2s were based. During the latest reorganisation, however, all operational Colts are concentrated at Zokniai.
On April 18th, 1996, five ex-Polish Air Force Mi-2s were delivered to the Lithuanian Air Force. 23rd Squadron at Pajuostis was formed and al Mi-2s went to this squadron. Only two remained in service: one went to the aviation museum in Kaunas and two were transferred to the police.. The Air Force withdrew her Mi-2s in the beginning of the new century. The police operated three Kamov Ka-26s, but they seemed to be in a very poor condition and were stored for a few years.
The sole An-24B and three An-26Bs were obtained in November 1994 from the civil airline fleet in Lithuania. The four Antonov's were taken on charge with II.TE, augmenting the An-2s with their tasks. Operations with the An-24 did not last for long, in 1996 the aircraft was donated to the same museum as the Mi-2 went to.
The fleet of four L-39Cs was augmented on October 10th, 1998. Two new L-39ZA Albatrosses were delivered to the Karines Oro Pajegos (Lithuanian Air Force) at the civil airfield Kaunas-Karmelava. Later, both aircraft flew to their home base at Zokniai. Until August 1st, 2000, two L-39 squadrons existed in the Lithuanian Air Force: 11th squadron at Zokniai and 21st squadron at Pajuostis (no aircraft assigned). Both squadrons disbanded and on this date, the new Naikintuvu Grandis (Fighter Flight) was established at Zokniai.
In 1993, three Mi-8 helicopters where bought. One Mi-8MTV-1 and two Mi-8T troop transports. One Mi-8T crash landed at Zokniai during a flight on July 24th, 1997, sustaining only minor damage. Later additions to the Air Force were the delivery of eight Mi-8 helicopters. All eight had been in open storage at the international airport of Vilnius for a couple of years and the government decided to donate them all to the Air Force. Three of the newly delivered Mi-8s became specially equipped for Search and Rescue operations. Three were normal Mi-8T troop carriers and two were modified to Mi-8PS standard. One of these two was painted in a very attractive white colours. Also another Mi-8MTV-1 was purchased.
All Mi-8 helicopters have been flying with 13th squadron at Zokniai, but were transferred to the new Sraigtasparniu Eskadrile (Helicopter Squadron) at Pajuostis. When the helicopter squadron was established at Pajuostis, SAR-flights were to be conducted from here, and from a small station just south of the city of Palanga near the Baltic coast (Nemirseta). Also a SAR station was established at Kaunas - Aleksotas near the Helisotas premises.
In June 2006 an order for three C-27J Spartan tactical transport aircraft was issued. Already in December 2006 the first of the three C-27Js arrived in Lithuania, because by that time the first An-26 was by that time withdrawn from use.
The airspace of the Baltic States is patrolled and protected by fighters from NATO members. Each contributing nation deploys (usually four) aircraft for a period of four months to the former Soviet air base Siauliai. It is still planned that in due time the Baltic States will be able to provide their own air-cover with a fighter type yet to be selected and acquired.
The Krasto Apsaugos Savanoriskos Pajegos (KASP) used four An-2 transport aircraft, with two based on each airfield (Kyviskis and Šilutê). Their main tasks consisted of parachute jumping, and utility. Also four Polish built PZL-104 Wilga 35s were in use, only not equally divided between the two bases. Silute housed the majority of them, three, while the remaining one could be found at Kyviskes. This example was changed from its original yellow colours into a more military camouflage. Only one Yak-18T four seat trainer/transport was in use. Painted in white and red it was stored for a few years but adopted an attractive military camouflage as well. The sole Yak-55 crashed during mid 2000. Also in use was a single Piper PA-38-112. Originally it was from the United States of America, but was purchased in Austria. Due to the lack of spare parts, it remained stored at Kyviskes. A number of Yak-52s have been taken over from the DOSAAF. All lost its original colours and are painted in various kinds of camouflage. Silute housed also some L-13 Blanik, LAK-12 and Jantar Standard 3 glider aircraft.
The KASP was renamed to Krasto Apsaugos Savanori Pajegos Aviacjos Rinktive (KASPAR, Voluntary National Defence Service) and relocated to a single location Kyviskis in 2006. On 30 September 2009 the National Guard transferred its flying branch to the Air Force. Only a few aircarft (Yak-18 and Yak-52s) were taken in active duty, others like An-2 were placed in storage, put up for sale or were withdrawn.