Slovakia - MiG-29SD
The MiG-29 were made in the Soviet Union at the turn of the 1980s and 1990s. At that time, they were among the top planes in the military aircraft category. The first twenty fighters were acquired by the Czechoslovak People's Army in 1989. When Czechoslovakia was split, they were not divided in the usual ratio of 2:1, but each country received 10 fighters.
Altogether, 24 single-seater and twin-seater MiG-29s were delivered to Slovakia as part of the division of the Czech and Slovak Federative Republic's property and the settlement of the Russian debt. The MiG-29s were upgraded in the years 2004-2006, including with NATO compatible communication and navigation systems. Slovakia's 11 remaining MiG-29s will reach the projected end of service life between 2029 - 2035.
They were intended primarily for air defense of the country and designed to shoot down enemy aircraft. The wingspan of the MiG-29 is more than 11 meters. The fighter is almost five meters high and more than 17 meters long, which is about the size of a volleyball court. It flies up to a distance of 1,430 kilometers at a time, which is more than from Bratislava to London. Its maximum speed is 2,400 kilometers per hour, and it could cover the mentioned route in approximately 30 minutes. In addition, the fighter speed is twice the speed of sound.
The Ministry of Defence and members of the broader public bid farewell to the Slovak Air Force's iconic MiG-29 Fulcrums, which had been the mainstay of Slovakia's supersonic tactical aviation until their grounding 27 August 2022. The MiG-29s made their last fight during the Slovak International Air Fest (SIAF) 2022 at Malacky - Kuchyna Air Base before being withdrawn from operational service.
Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad said: “The MiG-29s have a long good record of service in the Slovak Air Force to the benefit of protecting Slovak airspace. Our pilots have logged over 20,240 flying hours on the aircraft, both on exercises and operations. However, for Slovakia, there are no prospects for the operation of Soviet-era equipment into the future. With their operability and warfighting capability degraded by low reliability, these air assets are incompatible with our NATO allies and can no longer be upgraded.” He went on to point out that operating the required MiG-29 capabilities under the current circumstances would be very demanding – logistically, economically and personnel-wise.
The Ministry of Defence was in talks with allies on how best to use its decommissioned fleet of MiG-29 fighter jets.
The grounding of the Slovak Air Force's MiG-29 fleet after over 30 years of service was preceded by the signing of the Joint Declaration by the Czech Republic, the Republic of Poland and the Slovak Republic on Shared Commitment to Protect Slovak Airspace. The Czech and Polish Air Force will be tasked with patrolling Slovak skies from 1 September 2022 to 31 December 2023. Czechia, with its JAS-39 Gripens, and Poland, with its F-16s, will backfill the tactical fighter capability until such time as Slovakia regains it once U.S.-made F-16s enter operational service with the Slovak Air Force.
Slovakia asked NATO allies to patrol its skies after it decided to ground its own fleet of Russian-made MiG-29 fighter jets. Bratislava intended to send the MiGs to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight off Russia's invasion. Slovakia has provided over 154 million euros ($160.6 million) in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February.
Slovakia was planning to send MiG-29 fighter aircraft and tanks to Ukraine, whereas the Czech Republic will provide assistance to Slovakia in patrolling its territory until it receives US-made F-16s instead of the aircraft transferred to Ukraine. The Prime Ministers of Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Eduard Heger and Petr Fiala, said this live on the Czech Republic's CT24 channel on 03 July 2022. Heger said that Bratislava will transfer its MiG-29s to Ukraine and also mentioned the possibility of sending tanks to Ukraine. "But I don't want to talk about it in detail, because Ukraine asked us not to go into detail," Heger said.
Beginning in September 2022, the Czech Republic will send fighter jets to patrol the airspace of neighboring Slovakia, Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala said on July 3. "I don't see any problem there," he said. "The government will certainly approve it." Slovakia ordered 14 F-16 fighters from the United States in 2018 to replace its MiGs, and the first planes were scheduled to arrive in 2022. However, unexpected delays have pushed back that date to 2024. Fiala stressed that the West should provide weapons to Ukraine so that it can fight for its independence and European security. "They are also fighting for us," Fiala said.
The Polish government declared on 08 March 2022 that it was ready to move its MiG-29s to the military base in Ramstein, Germany, and put them at the disposal of the US troops there. They in turn asked the Americans to provide their used fighter jets with similar parameters; Poland is ready to agree on conditions to purchase these jets. The Polish government called on the NATO countries who also operate MiGs to do the same. Slovakia is one of them. Americans would pass the MiGs on to Ukraine.
"These ongoing consultations are a subject of non-public talks directly between allies and they definitely should not be communicated through injudicious press releases," Slovakia's Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad (OLaNO) reacted when asked about the Polish call.
Two weeks ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with fears rising that Russia may ramp up the use of its own jets and helicopters in the conflict, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky met with Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger (OLaNO) and other leaders during an EU summit in Brussels on 09 February 2023. During the meeting with the interim Slovak premier, Ukraine’s president expressed his hope that Slovakia would provide his country with its MiG-29 fighter jets.
Knowing of his interim administration’s limited powers, following the collapse of his government in December 2022, Heger’s answer was brief and diplomatic. “You can count on our help. We want you to succeed,” the interim prime minister assured his partner.
Less than two months into the war, in April 2022, Ukraine received a Soviet-made anti-aircraft missile system from Slovakia, followed by a demining system, five helicopters, various light weapons, 30 fighting vehicles, and ammunition. In addition, Ukraine purchased several Slovak howitzers in the past few months. Yet, Heger’s recent utterance outraged part of the Slovak opposition. It once again accused his government of attempting to drag Slovakia into the war.
On March 9, Nagy reported that his Polish colleague had suggested that he jointly send fighters from both countries to Ukraine. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that his government planned to do so within the next four to six weeks. According to the Slovak media, the air force of the republic has 11 MiG-29 fighters, of which 10 can be transferred to Ukraine, and one more will go to the museum. Earlier, Nagy reported that the MiG-29 is no longer used by the country's Air Force and pilot training for them has not been conducted for several years.
Speaker of Parliament Boris Kollar said that the leaders of the ruling parties had found a solution to the deadlock with the supply of aircraft, but declined to specify it. Defense Minister Yaroslav Nagy took part on 14 March 2023 in a meeting of the parliamentary committee on defense and security, where he informed the deputies about the situation with the supply of aircraft. Even before the meeting with the deputies, Nagy told reporters that the decision to transfer the aircraft to Ukraine could be made at one of the next meetings of the Cabinet, including on 15 March 2023.
Slovak Prime Minister Eduard Heger suggested 14 March 2023 that Bratislava will decide to transfer MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine. ""I think that the government has the necessary competencies to send this unused equipment, thus the government will make a decision, and we will send MiGs to Ukraine. We will not wait," he said in an interview published on the website of the SME newspaper.
Commenting on the opposition's intention to study the situation at the Sliac air base, where the MiG-29s are located, to make sure that the fighters are still in the republic, but are inoperative, Heger did not object. "They can easily do that if they have time," Heger said.
Opposition parties managed to slow down the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers to supply aircraft to Ukraine. According to opposition leaders, the government cannot make any significant decisions after the no-confidence vote passed by the parliament on December 15, 2022, since it, on behalf of President Zuzana Chaputova , is only fulfilling its duties until early elections. They will take place on 30 September 2023.
Interim Premier Eduard Heger confirmed on 15 March 2023 that the government will decide on donating Slovakia's decommissioned MiG-29 fighter aircraft to Ukraine when international talks on the matter are completed. The premier at the same time declared that the manner in which the aircraft would be sent to Kiev would be in line with the Constitution, and the public will get to know it when the international talks are finished. The Government had not yet decided on donating Slovakia's decommissioned MiG-29 fighter aircraft to Ukraine, and it only discussed the matter informally on Wednesday, interim Defence Minister Jaroslav Nad reported following the Government session on the same day.
"Donating the MiGs wasn't submitted to the Government agenda at all, there were no official talks," said Nad, adding that the Government is "still waiting for some more input from foreign partners". According to the minister, international talks on the matter are still ongoing. According to Nad, all ministers on Wednesday agreed on the manner in which they want to decide on donating the jet fighters. "We're very clear on how we're going to do this from the legal standpoint," he claimed. The defence minister at the same time reported that some of the Slovak MiGs, if ultimately sent to Ukraine, would only be used for spare parts given their technical condition. Moreover, he confirmed that Slovakia wants to donate the aircraft jointly with Poland.
The head of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, Marian Kery (Smer-SD), convened a committee session on 16 March 2023 to address the circumstances of Slovakia's potential donation of MiG-29 fighter aircraft to Ukraine. According to Kery, the interim government lacks the authority to decide on major foreign policy issues, such as donating Slovakia's weapon systems to other countries. Meanwhile, opposition Smer-SD head Robert Fico stated at a press conference on the same day that donating the MiGs to Ukraine would be "an open expression of hostility towards the Russian Federation", calling it a move that would fly in the face of the Constitution.
Prime Minister Heger said on 17 March 2023 that his government had agreed to deliver 13 MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. The announcement came after Poland said 16 March 2023 that it would donate a dozen fighter jets to the embattled country. Russia dismissed the announcements, saying that the planes would not make a difference in the overall course of the conflict. "In the course of the special military operation all this equipment will be subject to destruction," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. "It feels like all of these countries are thus engaged in the disposal of old unnecessary equipment."
Announcing the decision, Prime Minister Eduard Heger told a news conference that his government is “on the right side of history.” Earlier, Heger tweeted that military aid was key to ensuring Ukraine can defend itself and all of Europe against Russia. Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad said Slovakia will receive 200 million euros ($213 million) from the European Union as compensation and unspecified arms from the United States worth 700 million euros ($745 million).
In light of the absence of its own aircraft, Slovakia’s fellow NATO members Poland and the Czech Republic have stepped up to monitor Slovak air space, with Hungary set to join later this year. Bratislava has signed a deal to buy 14 U.S. F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets, but delivery has been pushed back two years to early 2024.
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