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MiG-29 Fighter Replacement

Slovakia, in the case of the transfer of decommissioned national air force MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine, will receive financial compensation in the amount of $ 900 million from the allies, the news portal pravda.sk reported on 15 March 2023, citing Defense Minister Yaroslav Nagy. "Slovakia would have to receive $900 million in cash and military material for the fighters [if they were transferred to Ukraine] from the United States and [other] allies," Nadya said. According to him, members of the Slovak government, among other things, consider it the best solution to transfer fighters to Kyiv.

The Cabinet of Ministers, as Nagy informed, may decide to send MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine at one of its next meetings. The head of the Cabinet of Ministers, Eduard Heger, expressed his conviction that the fighters would head to Ukraine. This issue was discussed, in particular, by the Defense and Security Committee of the National Council (Parliament) of Slovakia. The Slovak government did not decide on the transfer to Ukraine of the MiG-29 fighters taken out of service by the national air force. This was announced to journalists by the Minister of Defense of Slovakia Yaroslav Nagy 15 March 2023.

"The government has not yet made a decision on the transfer of the MiG-29 to Ukraine," Nagy said, quoted by Slovak Radio. Sending fighter jets to Ukraine was one of the topics of the Cabinet meeting. "The decision has not been made. Negotiations are ongoing in the international arena [on the possibility of transferring fighters to Ukraine]," the head of the Defense Ministry specified.

Slovakia at the end of August 2022 withdrew a MiG-29 squadron from the national air force. In the future, they should be replaced by American F-16s, the supply contract for which was signed by Bratislava. In Slovakia, according to the media, there are 11 MiG-29s, 10 of which can be transferred to Ukraine, and one will go to the museum as an exhibit.

President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky, at a meeting with Heger on the sidelines of an emergency EU summit in Brussels on 09 February 2023, asked Bratislava to transfer its MiG-29s to his country. Heger assured Zelensky that Slovakia would do its best to accommodate Ukraine's request. Assistance to Ukraine, as the Slovak politician said, "corresponds to the national interests of Slovakia and the interests of European security."

The Mig-29 was to serve until 2023, when Slovakia would take over the new American F-16 fighters. Slovakia wants to end the operation of MIG-29 fighters as soon as possible. The armed forces fear dependence on Russian technology. Technicians from Russia have been working at Sliac Airport for a long time, taking care of the squadron. MiGs are also dependent on Russian state-owned companies that supply spare parts. The Secretary of Defense wants to send them home.

In the year 2000 when the new Slovak Air Force Concept was initiated, which later became part of Model 2010, it was decided that MiG-29 fighters would be retained for the next decade. Then, it would be necessary to do decide about the fate ofsupersonic aircraft within the Armed Forces. Of course, the economic results of the country would also have to be taken into account.

Both the Parliamentary Committee on Defence and Security and NATO approved the Concept during the pre-accession negotiations in 2003. Brussels agreed that the fighter aircraft would only be used for the defence of the Slovak airspace, and from 2006, also for the defence of NATO’s integrated airspace. On September 16, 2005, at Sliac Air Base, a group of Russian experts finished making a group of 12 fighter aircraft operational according to the schedule.

The modernization of the MiG aircraft includes, among other things, installing new navigation and communications systems as well as the Identification Friend-Foe System (IFF). This system made friend-foe recognition possible. Both the Russian aircraft producer and the American IFF system manufacturer approved the project. Poles and Hungarians retained their MiG-29 fighter aircraft at least till the end of 2010. They had had to solve similar problems. The same identification system has been in use with F-16 aircraft.

The financial aspect cannot be neglected. The modernization’s final costs in the case of all 12 fighter aircraft amounted to around Skk 2.1 billion. This figure was written off the Russian debt. Once the modernization of MiG-29 fighter aircraft had been over, a single flight hour cost Slovak tax payers around Skk 100,000.00, which was less than that of Czech tax payers, since a single flight hour of the Swedish Gripen, the Czechs bought on hire purchase, amounted to around Skk 544,000.00. Hungarians, who also bought Gripen fighters, also have to take the same costs into account. To compare, a new Eurofighter cost Austrian tax payers more than Skk 4 billion.

This enabled the Slovak Air Force to operate modernised machines that meet all NATO requirements at least until 2010 or even with the view to 2015, yet without putting additional constraints on defence ministry’s budget. There would be plenty of time to consider purchasing new aircraft. The Air Force was successful in increasing thenumber of flight hours for each pilot, raising them from 17 back in 1998 to 60 flight hours by 2005 (however, MiG-29 pilots were not be able to reach the figure in 2005 year due tothe aircraft upgrades).

In NATO member countries there are around 180 flight hours on average per pilot flying multiple-purpose aircraft. The Slovak Air Force aimed to gradually achieve the final level of 100 flight hours by 2010. The reason for that dwells in the fact that Slovak machines are not multiple-purpose aircraft; therefore, it is not necessary to use them to carry out such extensive training. There were only a few of them (12 pieces) and there are no plans whatsoever to operate with them outside Slovakia.

By late December 2015 the Defense Ministry had agreed with their Swedish partners on conditions including flying hours for the rental of Swedish Gripen jet fighters. The offer included the lease of eight Gripen fighters to Slovakia (six C model single-seaters and two D model two-seaters) for an undisclosed price for a total of 1,200 flight hours per year.

But elections in March 2016 saw a change of government including the Slovak National Party. The new prime minister Robert Fico praised the capabilities of the MiG-29 aircraft. Thus on 02 June 2016 recently appointed Slovak defence minister Peter Gajdos rejected the latest offer for the lease of eight Saab Gripen fighters. "For me it is unacceptable how the Swedes are negotiating with us from a legislative and legal perspective. The asking price is also unacceptable".

By early 2016 the Czech Republic was considering a joint squadron of Saab Gripen fighters with Hungary, after the initial plan to operate such a squadron with Slovakia was postponed. Slovakia had planned on leasing the Swedish fighter, but then decided to extend the service life of the Russian-made Mikoyan MiG-29 aircraft. The Czechs looked elsewhere to boost regional defense cooperation, which may result in their combining their 14 leased Gripens with the Hungarians 12 operable ones.

Shortly before the 2016 election, then Minister Glvac claimed that the deal with the Swedes was almost agreed. He left his successor a proposal for a comprehensive agreement, which only had to agree on some "legislative and financial details". "We have a rental offer from Sweden that suits us," Glovac said.

The SVK Ministry of Defence recommended that the SVK Cabinet approve the continuation of the SVK Air Force MiG-29 fleet operation until such time as the U.S. F-16 C/D Block 70 fighter jets are delivered. This conclusion followed on from a detailed analysis of the alternatives proposed for securing the protection of SVK airspace, which had been drafted by the MOD and was submitted to the SVK Cabinet for deliberations and approval.

In processing the analysis, SVK Air Force and MOD Armaments Department specialists identified two alternatives for securing SVK airspace. While Alternative 1 envisaged cooperation with NATO Member States with a temporary loss of the Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) capability by the SVK Air Force, Alternative 2 meant the continuation of the MiG-29 fleet operation either in collaboration with the Republic of Poland or the Russian Aircraft Corporation MiG (RSK MiG).

Having costed and evaluated both alternatives while taking account of the technical condition of the MiG-29 fleet, applicable legislation, training of SVK AF pilots and ground personnel, the signing of an Amendment Agreement with RSK MiG, which would be in force between 16 November 2019 to 31 December 2023 with an option to extend it by 1 year, turned out to be the most effective and economical solution.

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