US presents F-16 aircraft in Bratislava

If the offer is accepted, the first fighter planes should arrive in Slovakia by the end of 2022.

F-16 fighter plane, Lockheed MartinF-16 fighter plane, Lockheed Martin (Source: AP/TASR)

Representatives of the US aerospace, defence, security, and advanced technology company, Lockheed Martin, presented an offer to sell F-16 aircraft to Slovakia on April 10. If Slovakia accepts the offer, the first F-16 fighter jets could arrive in the country by the end of 2022, they said, as quoted by the TASR newswire.

The need to replace obsolete Russian MiG-29 aircraft with more modern fighter jets has been an issue in Slovakia for a long time. Buying American F-16 fighter jets like the BLOCK 70 is one option, while another is a Swedish Gripen aircraft.

“The proposed F-16 aircraft deal will be able to compete with the Swedish Gripen aircraft and will form part of a package that includes training and weaponry,” the US arms producer’s representative, Michael Kelley, told TASR. He did not want to specify on the sum, as the sale is still under negotiation.

Kelley declined to specify the cost of a flight hour, either. He only said that although the cost of Gripens might be lower, their service life would be less than those of F-16s.

2022 at the earliest

The aircraft would not be supplied to Slovakia earlier than 2022 as the necessary infrastructure in Slovakia must be prepared first. “Delivery is scheduled for late 2022,” Kelley said, adding that the first four planes should be delivered to Slovakia at that time.

The deal should also include a programme of pilot training. “It’s difficult to set an exact time for the training, as the sale process is at the resolution stage at the moment,” said Craig Dalle, a former US air force pilot who flew F-16s, as cited by TASR. Based on his own experience, he estimated that the training will take three years. He stressed that the technical staff set to be involved in maintaining the aircraft need to be trained as well.

F-16 BLOCK 70 aircraft are currently in operation in 25 countries, including Italy, Norway and Poland. According to Kelley, F-16s are the most successful jet fighters in the world that have also been tested in combat. “The modernisation of their construction guarantees that F-16s will fly until at least 2045,” he said.

Possible future steps

Based on a request from the Slovak Defence Ministry, the US Congress on April 4 began dealing with a Letter of Offer and Acceptance related to an offer of F-16 aircraft to Slovakia for a total amount of $2.91 billion.

If the US Congress approves the offer, it will not mean that the ministry leadership has already decided to purchase this type of fighter aircraft, the Defence Ministry pointed out.

After considering offers from both the USA and Sweden, Defence Minister Peter Gajdoš will submit what he thinks is the most effective solution to the Slovak cabinet by June 29, 2018.

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