Reports are surfacing that NATO is to reopen the historic Kuçovë (Kucova) airbase in Albania as a logistics and training facility, writes Bob Morrison.
Initial reports that NATO was planning to invest 50million Euros in the airbase, situated some 80km south of the capital city of Tirana, were picked up from social media in August and then last Friday (12 October) the Reuters news agency confirmed this. Defence Minister Olta Xhaçka is quoted by them as saying, “The base is the first footprint of NATO in the Western Balkans as it will transform Kuçovë into the first NATO air base for the region.”
With its 2,800 metre (9,000 foot) main concrete NW-SE runway, Kuçovë is capable of accepting all current NATO transport and combat aircraft. The base, formerly home to Albania’s Cold War era fighter jets, also features a massive underground hangar facility tunnelled into a mountain range about two kilometres east of the runway with a straight taxiway, which also doubles as an emergency secondary runway, allowing speedy access to it.
Since the 1997 Albanian Civil War Kuçovë airbase has slowly deteriorated, with its large fleet of Soviet-built and Chinese copy MiG jets sitting outside exposed to the elements, but in recent years it has been used for a number of international military exercises. The Royal Marines have been regular visitors, working alongside Albanian Commandos on the ALBANIAN LION exercise series since 2011, but during these manoeuvres helicopters are the primary form of air transport as the runway has been in need of refurbishment for many years.