Laos Table of Contents
In 1975 the LPA took possession from the Royal Lao Air Force of an inventory of 150 United States-made aircraft ranging from T-28 ground attack to UH-34 helicopters. Without an air force of its own, the LPA had to rebuild the United States-backed and United States-trained RLAF. In order to do so, Laos turned to Vietnam and the Soviet Union.
By the end of 1976, Vietnamese advisers had laid the foundation for the Lao People's Air Force. Vietnamese technicians developed and implemented the training of Laotian cadres for command and operational positions. With the exception of new aircraft, Vietnam also provided the majority of equipment needed by the air force for day-to-day functioning. Laotian air force officers of promise were sent to schools in Vietnam for specialized training. Vietnamese and Soviet technical advisers had withdrawn from Laos by 1990.
In 1977, in order to modernize and make the transition from a United States-supplied counterinsurgency air force into one capable of providing air-to-air intercepts, a high-level Laotian military delegation visited the Soviet Union. Later that year, Laos received ten MiG-21 fighter aircraft, six An-24 transport aircraft, and four Mi-8 helicopters from the Soviet Union, along with in-country technical expertise. In addition, the Soviets funded construction of air bases and radar sites. Together, the Soviets and Vietnamese constructed a large air force base at Muang Phônsavan on the Plain of Jars, 240 kilometers north of Vientiane, and rebuilt the former French air base at Xénô, near Savannakhét. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, the Soviets built early warning radar systems in northern and western Laos to monitor Vietnamese, Chinese, and Thai aircraft movements.
Over time, the air force inventory measurably decreased. In 1975 there were 150 aircraft. By the mid-1980s, however, the inventory had been reduced to seventy aircraft of predominantly Soviet design. In the 1988-94 period, budgetary problems further reduced the air force inventory to approximately fifty aircraft. Few of the former Royal Lao Air Force's United States-made aircraft were still in use. As of mid-1994, there were approximately twentynine MiG-21s armed with AA-2 Anab air-to-air missiles that provided Laos with a credible air defense against its neighbors and principal adversaries, Cambodia and Thailand. However, the MiG-21 force, assessed as moderately capable in the mid-1980s, has deteriorated from age and poor maintenance and was marginal at best. Funds for replacing aircraft are not available. There were approximately 3,500 persons in the air force as of mid-1994.
Data as of July 1994