Slovakia is eager to lease eight to twelve SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen aircraft for the coming 10 to 15 years. According to Radio Slovakia on 28 July 2014, the Defense Minister of the East-European country, Martin Glváč, confirmed that Slovak fighter pilots will fly the Swedish jets.
Talks between Swedish authorities and Bratislava have been going on for some time now, with Slovakia aiming to have the new fighter enter service from 2016. The Slovaks are also cuddling up with the Czech, with whom they formed one country between 1918 and 1992. The Czech have been happily leasing Gripens since 2004.
According to sources within the Slovakian government their Ministry of Defence has now “down selected” the Swedish-made fighter jet as the only real candidate to replace the aging fleet of six Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29AS (single-seat) and two MiG-29UBS (two-seat) fighter aircraft at Sliač. Some sources say 1. Bojová letka (1. Combat Squadron), that flies the type, has only two fighters airworthy at a given time, illustrating how desperately the Slovaks are in need of a reliable air defence asset. The MiGs are due to be decommissioned from 2016.
Swedish Export Authority
In Sweden both sources within SAAB as well as the Swedish export authority (Försvarsexportmyndigheten) have confirmed that they are talking with Bratislava, but both have not disclosed in which phase these talks are.
The Slovakian Ministry of Defence has in the mean time knocked on the neighbours door. Plan is to first increase the co-operation between the Slovak Air Force’s (Vzdušné Sily Ozbrojených Síl Slovenskej Republiky) 1. Bojová letka at Sliač and the Czech Air Force’s (Vzdušné síly Armády České republiky) 211. Squadron at Čáslav already flying 14 SAAB Gripens. Thereby the fighter units from both countries get to know each other a bit better again, making a fantastic opportunity for peer-to-peer learning led by the Czech once Slovakia has received the same multi-role fighter. Slovak pilots also are already regular visitors of the Tactical Simulation Center (TSC) in the Czech Republic, featured in this exclusive Airheadsfly.com story.
Moreover, the two countries will semi-integrate their airspace with each other, thereby somewhat restoring air force activities before the 1992 break-up of Czechoslovakia, with Czech Gripens and Slovakian Fulcrums – that’s the NATO-reporting name for the MiG-29 – making cross-border sorties and landing at each others airfields without much of a fuss. Some say Bratislava is even looking for integration of its Gripens into a joint Czech-Slovakian unit at a joint airbase. But that is just one option being examined and certainly not something that will be done at this moment. “For now we just want to maximally use the scope for the development of our cooperation under current conditions,” state-secretary of the Czech Ministry of Defence Daniel Koštoval told the newspaper Lidové Noviny in April 2014.
The Czech Republic is the most extensive user of the Gripen, sometimes even outclassing Swedish Air Force jocks in experience with the Swedish made fighter jet. Read all about it in our Airheadsfly.com report of our exclusive visit we made earlier in 2014 to the Czech Air Force’s 211. Squadron.
Swedish Air Force
The Slovak Gripens will have to come from the current pool of Swedish Air Force aircraft. The Flygvapnet has 88 aircraft on strength, with another 24 stored. Of those 10 to 12 will be leased to Brazil, with max another 14 available for other countries like Slovakia. Earlier Swedish plans to axe older aircraft have been cancelled. Unlike Slovakia and current Gripen operators the Czech Republic, Hungary, Thailand and South Africa, both Sweden and Brazil eventually will field the new Gripen-E/F fighter jet.
© 2014 Airheadsfly.com editor Marcel Burger