PM Peter Pellegrini announced last week that Slovakia will postpone its decision on whether to replace its ageing MiG-29s with Lockheed Martin’s American-made F-16 Fighting Falcons or Saab’s Swedish Gripen fighter jets.
Currently, a Russian company and dozens of Russian technicians are contracted to maintain Slovakia’s fleet of twelve Soviet-made MiG-29s in a deal worth up to 80 million dollars. With this maintenance contract due to expire in autumn 2019, the Defense ministry was expected to submit an analysis, containing details about acquisition, operation and support infrastructure costs of the fighter jets being considered for purchase, for government approval by Friday.
In a turn of events, Pellegrini announced he needed more time to compare the U.S. and Swedish offers, hoping to “eliminate any doubts” before making this “serious decision worth billions of euros”.
A Reuters report claims that the Slovak government is indeed looking to invest 8.11 billion dollars in military modernisation programmes by 2030, with Defense spending expected to rise from 1.2 percent of the country’s GDP to 2 percent by 2024, as requested by NATO.
Critics already fear that this delay will keep prolonging the country’s dependence on Russia, and this isn’t the first time talks have broken down.
Slovakia had indeed been in talks with the Swedish government regarding the purchase of JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets for years, before the nationalist and Eurosceptic SNS coalition stalled the talks and invited new bidders, including Lockheed Martin, to the table.
Neighbouring fleets in Hungary and the Czech Republic already operate 12 Gripens fighter jets each, while Poland flies a large fleet of 48 F-16s and 31 MiG-29s.