Slovakia signs deal to replace Russian-made fighter jets with US F-16 planes

A Polish F-16 fighter from the 31st Tactical Air Base in Krzesiny flies in the airspace near Powidz, Poland, 18 September 2018. [EPA-EFE/JAKUB KACZMARCZYK POLAND OUT]

Slovakia’s defence ministry signed a deal on Friday (30 November) to buy 14 US-made F-16 fighter jets to replace its ageing Russian-made MiG-29s, its defence ministry said.

Slovakia’s government picked the new F-16s made by Lockheed Martin over cheaper Swedish Gripen jets produced by Saab in July.

But relations in the three-party governing coalition have since become more tense and Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini of centre-left Smer party said the deal, overseen by a junior coalition centre-right nationalist party, will only become valid after approval by the finance ministry.

The defence ministry gave no details of the deal. Pellegrini said in July the country will pay €1.589 billion for 14 fighter jets, pilot training, ammunition and two-year logistical support.

NATO member Slovakia plans to spend about €6.5 billion by 2030 to modernise its military and wants to reduce its reliance on Russian equipment but it has a maintenance contract with Russia for 12 MiG-29s until autumn 2019.

The contract will likely have to be prolonged as Slovakia will not receive all 14 new jets before 2023.

Among central European neighbours, Hungary and the Czech Republic operate Gripens. Poland flies a large fleet of 48 F-16s while also keeping around 30 MiG 29s.

Slovakia’s defence spending is due to rise from 1.2% of gross domestic product this year to 1.6% in 2020 and 2.0% by 2024.

Bulgaria too is replacing eight of its MiG-29 in a €900 million tender. Similarly, the country is choosing between US F-16 jets and Sweden’s Gripen.

Bulgaria to choose between Swedish or US fighter jets

The United States, Sweden and Italy have filed bids to supply Bulgaria with eight fighter jets aimed at replacing its ageing Soviet-designed MiG-29s, in a tender estimated at 1.8 billion levs (€900 million), the defence ministry said on Monday (1 October).

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