The Luftstreitkräfte der NVA (Air Forces of the NVA) was the air arm of the National People's Army of the German Democratic Republic (GDR, or East Germany). It was founded in 1956, after the GDR's entry into the Warsaw Pact alliance, on the basis of People's Police Air units formed in 1950. In 1957, the air force was combined with the Luftverteidigung (Air Defense), which operated ground-based anti-aircraft missile and tracking systems. The service's full name was Luftstreitkräfte/Luftverteidigung, or LSK/LV.
The name Luftstreitkräfte was the name used by the air corps of the German Empire between 1910 and the end of World War I in 1918. The West German air force adopted the name Luftwaffe used by the Third Reich air force from 1935 to the end of World War II.
The Luftstreitkräfte primarily flew Soviet aircraft, including the Sukhoi Su-22 fighter-bomber and six generations of Mikoyan-Gurevich (MiG) tactical fighters. The inventory also included Soviet-built helicopters along with trainers and other light aircraft manufactured in Czechoslovakia.
The East German air force was unique among Warsaw Pact countries in that it was often equipped with the most advanced Soviet fighters, instead of downgraded export models. As an extension of the Soviet 16th Air Army deployed in East Germany, the Luftstreitkräfte was expected to play a front-line role in any war with NATO. As a result, it was under closer Soviet control than the air forces of other Warsaw Pact states.
Aircraft were marked with a diamond-shaped symbol divided into vertical black, red and gold stripes corresponding to the horizontal fesses or bars on the GDR state flag. At the center of the diamond was the GDR coat of arms: a hammer and compass surrounded by a wreath of yellow grain. The symbol differentiated the Luftstreitkräfte from the West German Luftwaffe, which displays a stylized Iron Cross similar to the emblem on German planes during World War I. The uniforms of the two German air forces were also different: following an older German tradition, LSK/LV uniforms were the same stone gray worn by army personnel, modified by distinctive blue insignia and piping. West German uniforms, on the other hand, were blue with yellow insignia and more closely modelled on those worn by Luftwaffe personnel during World War II.
After German reunification in 1990, the Luftwaffe assumed control over Luftstreitkräfte equipment and enlisted some of its personnel. Many of the GDR's military aircraft were obsolete or incompatible with NATO technical standards, and were sold to other countries. However, the Luftwaffe did retain the MiG-29 in both air defense and aggressor roles because of its excellent capabilities. Until these were sold to Poland in 2004, Germany was the only NATO partner to incorporate Soviet-built aircraft into its air force. Indeed, the MiG-29G (after conversion with some NATO-compatible systems) was probably the most sophisticated air superiority fighter deployed by the Luftwaffe until the EF2000 Eurofighter reached service, and was considered superior even to the modernized F-4 Phantom II.
Many more aircraft and helicopters were also passed to the Luftwaffe, which were then sold to other nations