On 10 July 2018, the Slovak government announced the purchase of multi-role Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon Block 70/72 fighters, 14 of which are to replace the current MiG-29s.
Slovakia’s decision came quite unexpectedly – on 20 June, the Prime Minister announced that the selection of the supplier would be delayed. The aim of this step was to reduce the pressure on policy makers. The American offer beat the Swedish one. Saab offered the Slovaks JAS-39C/D Gripen, the purchase of which would enable them to strengthen their military cooperation with the Czech Republic and Hungary, which has been operating this type of aircraft for more than ten years. On the other hand, the choice of F-16 will allow for a closer cooperation with Poland (48 F-16C/D), as well as with Romania and Croatia, which have also decided to use the American aircraft.
Slovakia, unlike Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, did not start a technical modernization at the turn of the century – it continued its military cooperation with Russia. When Czechoslovakia split up, Slovak Aviation Forces took over ten MiG-29s (9 A and one UB versions), which were supplemented by deliveries from Russia (12 A and two UB models) in the following years because of settlements for the debt owed to the USSR. Despite that, financial problems led to a process of gradual withdrawing of some of the aircraft units in use (Su-22, Su-25, L-29 Delfin, MiG-21). However, there was still not enough money to maintain the MiG-29 fleet – the number of aircraft units in service started to decrease, and in addition, two were lost as a result of an accident (in 2002).
The accession to NATO forced a modernization of equipment, including 12 MiG-29s, with the procedure involving the participation of Russians. In addition, Slovakia decided to maintain good relations with Russia – MiG has been providing logistic support to the Slovak air fleet until now.
In 2014, the process of selecting successors for MiGs was initiated. Since the very beginning, JAS-39C/D Gripen has been the favorite, with the main arguments for this option being its lower price and operating costs, as well as the possibility of closer cooperation with the Czech Republic, which now includes pilot training.
A few months ago, however, Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Fighting Falcon Block 70/72 cane unexpectedly to the front.
So far, United States have been willing to provide Slovaks only with used F-16A/B from USAF’s equipment surplus – the cost of renovation and modernization was estimated to amount to about EUR 220 million, which was uneconomical from Slovakia’s point of view.
In 2018, the situation regarding the American offer changed dramatically. On 4 April, the Department of State announced its approval of a potential export of Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70/72. The export application sent to Congress mentioned a maximum amount of $2.9 billion. The following elements are included in the package:
14 F-16s in full configuration (12 one-seaters and two two-seaters),
2 F110 or F100 engines,
2 AN/APG-83 radars,
2 LN260 EGI/EGPS navigation systems,
14 helmet-mounted sights,
2 AN/ALQ-211 sets,
2 AN/ALE-47 false target launchers.
In addition, the package includes a weaponry set:
30 each AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM,
100 each AIM-9X Sidewinder,
12 each CTAM-9X size and mass mockups,
224 each GBU-12 bomb conversion kits,
20 each GBU-49 conversion kits,
150 each GBU-38 JDAM targeting modules,
36 each Mk.82 bomb size and mass mockups,
400 each Mk.82 bombs,6 AN/AQ-33 Sniper observation and target containers,
As a standard, the package includes logistics as well as training and consulting services.
In May, Washington sent Bratislava a LoA on aircraft units and the first batch of weapons (AIM-120C-7 AMRAAM and AIM-9X Sidewinder), as well as on training services – with the first two valid until 27 July, and the training service until 30 June. Taking into account the decision of the Slovak government, it can be assumed that the period of validity of the contracts will be extended.
According to the published data, the American aircraft turned out to be better in almost all aspects evaluated – their score was 93% (Gripen’s was 82%). Interestingly enough, the prices of both offers were given the same rating (38 points out of 40) – we’ll let you think about it. During its work, the committee visited air bases in Sweden, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Greece, and the Czech Republic, where it learned about the capabilities of the aircraft. According to the parties to the contract, the delivery of aircraft units will take 36-48 months from the signing of the LoA – such a long period of time is due to, among others, the relocation of the F-16 assembly line from Fort Worth to Greenville, which is to finish in 2019, as well as the launch of the production process of F-16 Block 70/72 for Bahrain.
Thanks to its success in Slovakia, Lockheed Martin received orders for 30 F-16C/D Block 70/72 (16 for Bahrain and 14 for Slovakia). The result makes up 13% of the manufacturer’s marketing goal for the coming years, as it is assumed that it is possible to sell up to 400 Block 70/72 worldwide – with India, Indonesia, Colombia or Poland being among the other potential sales markets.
Importantly enough, Slovak’s opting for F-16 Block 70/72s may also be beneficial for Poland. Firstly, the government in Bratislava may be interested in training pilots in Dęblin, using the new training infrastructure of the 4th Training Aviation Wing and over 10 years of experience in the operation of F-16C/D Fighting Falcon. Secondly, the step taken by Slovaks and the analysis of their choice may speed up the decision-making process in Poland as regards the selection and purchase of a new batch of multi-purpose combat aircraft, which could replace the Su-22 and some of MiG-29s, as it is no secret that Lockheed Martin is intensively promoting the Block 70/72 in Poland as well.