Commander Allied Air Command, Gen. Tod D. Wolters visited our country in the framework of the 10th anniversary of Albania in the Alliance. In this visit, the general, together with the Albanian authorities, discussed about the investment in Kuçova Air Base, a project that is expected to be completed over the next five years. In an interview with Vizion Plus journalist Thimi Samarxhiu, General Wolters gave details about this project and Albania’s contribution to NATO.
Below the full interview:
-General, since it is your first visit to Albania, what is the impression left to you by Albania?
The first impression was the hospitality and the family atmosphere, which I found of everyone, from your President, to the Minister of Defense, to Chief of Staff, Chief of Air Force. Everyone was very hospitable.
-You are coming to an important moment where it is expected to start building the Kuçova base, but the question is why NATO chose Albania and why Kuçova?
First, Albania is a very valuable ally for NATO and moves to the same sidelines and with the same values as the member states. Kuçova, represents an air base that has the infrastructure that will allow us for a quick change, turning it into a very valuable air base. It gives us the opportunity to station our aircraft, as well as to station our resources. From the point of view of flight, the atmospheric conditions in Kuçova are exceptional.
-You mention the weather conditions as very favorable, but have you seen other places in Albania or the region?
First, geographical positioning was very attractive, referring to the Western Balkans, but also referring to the location in Albania. Atmospheric conditions there will allow us to lower and raise aircraft more easily than elsewhere and Kuçova became a choice considering the existing structure there.
–Was it a request of Albania or was it of NATO?
It was at the request of NATO.
-What will be the impact of building this base for Albania but also for the region?
The first impact is that the country will attract more attention in terms of military activities, including NATO coaching and training activities here in Albania. The country will witness what NATO can do and secondly, it will undoubtedly bring about an increase in private activities in Kuçova.
-Many ask what kind of base will it be?
There is still work to decide on the features of Kuçova, but it will be an air base that will be able to launch the aircraft and put us in a position to benefit what the aircraft bring for security. And from the NATO point of view, we are very much interested in air policing, which is one of our missions in times of peace. And what we anticipate when the base is completed and the conditions are favorable is to put our capacities in a position where we can direct air policing from Kuçova.
-This year marks the 10th anniversary of Albania’s membership in NATO. How do you see the role of our country in the Alliance?
A very intensive and serious ally of NATO. When you see the extent of the activity your country contributes to and where the Armed Forces serve, it is extraordinary. Starting from this place, going south-east to the Aegean, north-east of Afghanistan, the Baltic countries, Kosovo, Mali, when you see all the terrains, the seas, the space where your army forces conduct peace activities, it is extraordinary. Albania’s contribution to NATO is enormous.
-But again 2% of gross domestic product has not been achieved. Believe it will be achieved?
I am very happy after the meeting with the Defense Minister and President who expressed their commitment to achieve 2% in 2024 and I know that they will work hard to achieve it.
-General, you know that Albania does not have a plane, but we have helicopters and if I’m not mistaken 24, of 10 different brands and produced in 6 different countries. So we do not have a uniform fleet. Will NATO help Albania in this regard?
If the Albanian Air Forces seek this kind of help, I’m sure NATO will offer its assistance. But you have to know that there are several advantages of having different variants and different manufacturers, but there are also disadvantages. We know that your Government will be very smart about the decisions it will take in the future and we know that NATO will have a constructive dialogue, your intentions regarding the variety of aircraft and manufacturers, to maintain the success of air force.
-Why is the Western Balkans so important for NATO?
It is the proximity to the region, connected with all of Europe. When you see the Adriatic Sea or the southern border of Europe, it is important to have peace and development and Albania’s location in the Balkans and especially in the Western Balkans is very important.
-This year is the 20th anniversary of the NATO bombing campaign on former Yugoslavia, which later brought Kosovo’s independence. How have you seen Kosovo over these years?
I am Allied Air Command Commander and I am here to celebrate the activity in Kuçova. I prefer to talk about the wonderful things happening here, in your country with your Air Force and obviously NATO sees what is going on in Kosovo and will leave the headquarters to address those issues.
-We talk a lot about Russian influence and Russian threats here in the Western Balkans, how real is this Russian menace?
I can not talk about Albania because I have no data here because I have not been in Albania. I will tell you as Commander of NATO Air Command, when someone mentions Russia, my simple comment is: It is our duty in NATO to take on the 29 countries from the perspective of the air forces, and with the passage of days to get trained as much as we can so we can increase co-operation, transparency, improve our ability to provide data and warnings. The developments are taking place in Kuçova currently, starting with the reconstruction of the base that will be the first contract for the F20 flight. All of these are concrete endeavors that will provide improved conditions and opportunities for a better training and communication, and we will have better indicators and warning announcements in the battle of air space. All these are my own opinions whenever this question comes about what is happening to Russia. In my view what we can do is to guarantee the best possible for our forces to be on the alert.
-General, what has changed in Europe after 2014?
Improving common defense, improvement and readiness for military forces, which are NATO members for all 29 countries. With the passage of days, there is a slight improvement in readiness, there is a slight improvement in attitude and all these improve the authority, flexibility, and reaction.
This is our best campaign we are having at the moment and which we have to go further even in the air space. What I say is exactly what I have observed during my NATO service in this position since 2016, to this very moment.
-What will be the space challenges for the military in the near future?
The army challenges will be to work with their governments, to find ways to take space patterns and transfer them to the traditional land, sea, and air domain. Get those data and improve our capabilities to secure data and warnings for the Steering Command. If we can benefit from what space offers us, we will be in a very good position.
-How do you see the threat from hypersonic rockets and challenges to them?
The Army boasts of its ability to take over any risk, at the greatest speed or the greatest distance. Hypersonic missiles relate to speed and as you may have seen, many countries are very concerned about the developments of others in this area. We are concerned , not only America but NATO as well and one of the things we can do is to improve our warning data in the Steering Command and to work at a speed comparable to the speed of hypersonic skills. And we can do it.
-A message for Albanian youth, why should they become part of the Armed Forces?
Undoubtedly they should become part of the Armed Forces and I would be the best supporter of this. Looking at the Armed Forces skills, the performance demonstrated during the last decade which I would highly recommend to you to go to places like Afghanistan or why not in the Baltic, and there you will see the influence of your country in maintaining, guaranteeing peace and prosperity. That is why I think every citizen should be inspired to give his contribution.
-And the last question when will the first flight be from the Kuçova base?
Whenever it is, it is not close enough.