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December 7, 2015

Plan of joint Czech-Slovak air squadron fails

Slovakia lacks money for Gripens, will likely keep Cold War–era MiGs in service

Prague, Dec 7 (ČTK) — The plan of a joint Czech-Slovak supersonic air squadron has failed since Slovakia lacks money for the Gripen fighters now, daily Lidové noviny (LN) writes.

The Czech-Slovak squadron was to operate 22 Swedish-made Jas-39 Gripen fighters, 14 Czech and eight Slovak planes, which Slovakia was to acquire. Its main base would be in Čáslav, central Bohemia, and an additional airport in Sliac, central Slovakia.

The joint platform was to facilitate and speed up the training of pilots as well as the service and purchases of spare parts, while the operational costs would decrease. Moreover, a pair of Gripens would be permanently allocated to NATO operations in which Czech and Slovak pilots could jointly participate, LN says.

However, Bratislava is now backpedalling since it has no money left for the lease of the Gripen supersonic fighters from Sweden after high investments in the upgrading of the Slovak air force, LN writes.

It adds that the Slovak military recently bought nine multipurpose Black Hawk helicopters for an equivalent of Kč 6.5 billion, two C-27J Spartan transport planes for Kč 1.9 billion and a pair of L-410 planes for Kč 0.25 billion. Consequently, it cannot afford to lease Gripens now and is seeking possibilities to keep its eight MiG-29 Russian-made fighters in operation.

Though Slovakia has been negotiating with the Swedish producer of Gripens about their possible lease, the talks lead nowhere, according to LN sources.

“The talks with Swedes continue. We have prepared three alternatives – the lease of hours in the air, the extension of the MiG-29’s operation and a temporary protection of our airspace in cooperation with our partners in NATO,” Slovak Defense Ministry spokeswoman Martina Balleková said.

In addition, since October, Bratislava has been in contact with the Russian RSK MiG firm providing the operation and service of the Slovak MiGs, the contract with which expires next year, which also indicates that the talks with Swedes have failed, LN adds.

According to experts, Bratislava is preparing a way out not to stay without supersonic planes after Christmas.

LN writes that Czechs may help Slovaks. In 2013, the then Czech chief of staff, Petr Pavel, said Czech pilots with four Gripens would be able to protect the Slovak airspace without NATO’s further aid for three months.

“According to very rough estimates, we would charge about one million crowns per hour of such operation,” a Defense Ministry strategist told LN previously.

However, the Czech Defense Ministry originally planned to help Slovakia this way if its talks with Sweden about the Gripens’ lease were too lengthy and the fighters’ delivery was delayed.

“The Czech Republic is waiting for the Slovak government’s decision on the future of the Slovak supersonic air force and hopes that this decision will be made in the following few months,” Petr Sýkora, from the Defence Ministry’s press section, told LN.

LN writes that the project of a joint Czech-Slovak air squadron was drafted a couple of years ago. Last September, Prague, Bratislava and Stockholm signed a joint declaration in Sliac, which enables, for instance, the landing and refueling of Slovak MiGs in Čáslav, as the first stage before the merging of both supersonic air forces.

It will become clear next summer only whether Slovakia remains without its own supersonic aircraft or it will extend its contract with Russia. The governing politicians allegedly do not want to make any fundamental decisions by the general election due in March 2016, LN writes.

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