The commander of the Vzdušné sily Ozbrojených síl Slovenskej republiky (VzS OS SR, Air Forces of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic) Brigadier Ľubomír Svoboda talked to AFM at the Slovak International Air Fest at Sliač in August and explained that the biggest challenge he faces right now is modernisation. “We have recently received two new C-27Js to fulfil our transport needs and have received the first two of seven UH-60Ms on order. The second two UH-60Ms are expected to arrive in a couple of weeks time and the last three by the end of the year.”
Svoboda also has the small matter of preparing for the delivery of 14 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70s during the second quarter of 2023. Svoboda continued: “The F-16 deal, worth around US$1.6bn, is the biggest in Slovak Air Force history and we are going to send 22 Slovak Air Force pilots to the the US to commence flying training. The first six are expected to go to the US this year and they will stay for three years. They will start flying the F-16 Block 52s at Tucson ANGB, Arizona in 2022, before stepping into the Slovak Air Force Block 70s that will be based there.”
The pilots will be drawn mainly from the small fleet of Aero L-39CM/L-39ZAMs used by the 2. taktická letka (2nd Tactical Squadron) at Sliač air base as lead-in fighter trainers. “It doesn’t make sense to send the MiG-29 pilots because they are already around 40 [years old] now and by the time they come back they will be three years older. We intend to keep their experience when they become instructor pilots at the L-39 training squadron.”
Everyone admits that it will be a huge step for the younger pilots to go from the L-39 to F-16 Block 52 and, privately, some believe it could prove too big for some.
The commander continued: “The L-39s are expected to last another six years – and we are preparing the requirements and the budget now. We want to look at all the options.”
Mindful of a future requirement for a new Slovakian Air Force trainer, several of the options were seen at Sliač show: the Aero L-39CW – which is effectively an L-39NG prototype –Leonardo M-345 and the Grob G 120TP.
A representative from LOTN (Letecké opravovne Trenčín), which is owned by the Slovak defence ministry, said the company hopes to sign a contract to weaponise the UH-60Ms with 7.62mm machine guns as well as secure a deal with Lockheed Martin for the logistics support of the F-16s. Alan Warnes