February 13, 2010:
Albania is buying five AS 532 helicopters, for about $16 million each. This is a military version of the French Puma, and is primarily used for search and rescue. The nine ton, twin engine AS 532 can carry up to twenty passengers. Top speed is 170 kilometers an hour and endurance is 3-4 hours. This purchase is part of an effort to upgrade Albanian military equipment so it can qualify to join NATO.
This effort is a big shift for Albania. For nearly half a century, Albania was run by one of the most oppressive and paranoid communist dictatorships in the world. We're talking a North Korea class government here. For decades, the communist dictatorship built fortifications, bought weapons and trained much of the 3.5 million Albanians to resist an invasion that never came (or was even planned by anyone.)
When Albania's communist (actually Stalinist) dictatorship fell in 1990, it left in its wake a huge stockpile of Soviet era weapons and equipment. It wasn't until five years ago that Albania retired its last MiG-15 fighter. Albania has also destroyed a huge stock of chemical weapons, and thousands of tons of elderly conventional munitions. A poor country, Albania has been spending two percent of GDP for a decade to upgrade its armed forces, and new helicopters are part of the plan.