Air and Air Defense Forces
The air and air defense forces, founded in April 1952, were the most junior of the three services. In 1991 the personnel strength of these forces was about 11,000 men, the majority of when consisted of officers assigned to ground-based air defense units. The air force had nearly 100 combat aircraft supplied by China. The main air bases were located near Tiranė, Shijak, Vlorė, Sazan Island, and Kuēovė. The missions of the air force were to repel the enemy at the country's borders and to prevent violations of national airspace. However, the obsolescence of Albania's combat aircraft and probable deficiencies in readiness made it unlikely that the air force could fulfill these missions against the more modern aircraft of neighboring countries. The air force was a source of prestige for the regime, but for practical purposes it served mainly to provide the core for upgrading in the event that a new, technologically advanced foreign sponsor appeared in the future.
After 1970 the air force replaced its entire inventory of Soviet MiG-15 and MiG-17 aircraft acquired during the 1950s with Chinese-produced airplanes. It had one squadron of Chinese J-7s and two squadrons of J-6 fighter-interceptors, with ten to twelve aircraft per squadron. Ground-attack and support aircraft included two squadrons of Chinese J-4s and one squadron of J-2 fighter-bombers. The most modern of these Chinese-built aircraft, the J-7, was designed along the lines of the Soviet MiG-21, which was first introduced in the 1960s. The J-6 fighter-interceptor was the Chinese version of the MiG-19 from the 1950s. These aircraft were limited to daytime operations, lacking the sophisticated radar and avionics required to give them night and all-weather flight capabilities. Military transport aircraft and helicopters consisted of one squadron of C-5 transports, a Chinese-manufactured Soviet An-2; one squadron of Chinese Li-2 transports; and two squadrons of Chinese Z-5 helicopters. The Z-5 was basically a Soviet Mi-4.
Air defense equipment was primarily Soviet in origin. Four sites equipped with Soviet SA-2 surface-to-air missiles constituted a point air defense system for several strategic locations in Albania. The SA-2 was received initially in 1964 and became obsolete in the 1970s. The Chinese apparently did not upgrade Albania's capability. Until 1976 China supplied most of the spare parts required to maintain the air force's equipment. After 1976, however, the combat readiness of the air force declined because deliveries of spare parts were reduced. The aircraft inventory also shrank after China ceased its arms supply relationship with Albania. Increasingly, older aircraft that could not be repaired left the inventory and were not replaced.
|Country Studies main page | Albania Country Studies main page|