The year 2017 will be the year that for the first time in history sees joint air defense over four European countries. Not only are Belgium and the Netherlands operating a combined Quick Reaction Alert (QRA) since 1 January 2017, starting this summer the Czech Republic and Slovakia will do the same. The latter countries today agreed on cooperation.
The joint efforts are quite remarkable in a time of increasing international tension, although the combined effort of Belgium and the Netherlands has been on the cards for quite some time already. Whereas until last year both countries each had four F-16s on constant standby, they now take turns in keeping an eye out for airliners gone astray or potential threats, thus saving costs. Being small countries, they apparently can afford slighly longer transit times for the F-16s to get close to the action.
Czechs and Slovaks
The Czechs and Slovakians also talked about joint air defense before, but mostly in light of Slovakia maybe also leasing Saab Gripen fighter jets, as does the Czech Republic. While Slovakia for now continues to operate older MiG-29 Fulcrums, both countries today still agreed to keep a watch over each other’s skies. The agreement should be officaly ratified and come into effect later this year.
Meanwhile, it will be interesting to see what effect the cooperation between Belgium and the Netherlands has on the former’s selection of a new fighter jet to replace the F-16. The Netherlands has already opted for the F-35 Lightning II, but Belgium is still undediced. The Belgians are looking at the F-35, Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Saab gripen and Dassault Rafale.
Slovakia is not leasing or buying Saab Gripen fighter jets and neither is it seeking a joint Gripen unit with the Czech Republic anymore. According to local media this week, funds don’t allow for eight JAS39 Gripens to be leased or purchased.
In Slovakia, the Saab Gripen would have replaced a small fleet of ageing MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets that have been in service since the late eighties. The country is now looking to keep eight MiGs in the air for longer, with contacts already with Russian suppliers.
Czech Gripens may still be called upon in case this change of plans leads to reduced serviceability of Slovakian MiGs. The Czechs would be able to guard Slovakian airspace for roughly three months.
Bulgaria finally made a deal with Poland for the maintenance and repair of its Soviet-made Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-29s, to keep the air-defence fighter fleet airborne. We reported on the agreement already in February this year.
According to Bulgarian and Polish sources the deal includes a look at the engines. However, fancy upgrades like on the Polish Air Force MiG-29s with a full structural overhaul, a multi-function display, GPS navigation, new radios, a new mission computer and a digital video recorder are not included.
The Belarusian Air Force started to upgrade almost its entire fleet of aircraft. The most ambitious part: to replace the 24 older MiG-29s “Fulcrum” combat jets with state-of-the-art Sukhoi Su-30SM “Flanker” aircraft between 2020 and 2030.
During a meeting with journalist from Belarusian state press agency BelTA Major-General Oleg Dvigalev, Chief of Staff of the Belarusian Air Force and Air Defence, said that his people already test-flew the Su-30SM during the recent MAKS International Airshow in Moscow.
Although the general did not say how many Flankers he would like the buy, we at Airheadsfly.com believe that the 13 MiG-29s upgraded to BM standard in the early 2000s will stay a bit longer, while up to 18 Su-30SMs will be purchased. The number is based on earlier statements by the Belarusian military leadership.
Meanwhile the country’s rotary wing of 20 Mil Mi-35 attack helicopters and 5 Mi-26 heavy-lift choppers is expecting a boost with the arrival of 12 Mi-8MTV-5 choppers, the first six in 2016 and the second batch in 2017. They are an upgraded version of the 18 to 25 Mi-8/Mi-17s the Belarusian Air Force has already on strength and are expected to replace some of them.
Airlift and attack
One of the two Ilyushin IL-76 strategic airlifters is currently being brought back to airworthy status, while the second batch of four Yakovlev Yak-130 light attack and advanced jet trainers has been ordered some time ago. The backbone of the Belarusian Air Force’s ground attack capacity, between 40 and 68 operational Sukhoi Su-25 “Frogfoot” jets, will remain in service – as well as two to four Antonov An-26 transport aircraft and a handful of Mil Mi-2 utility helicopters.
Dassault’s Rafale is making some progress in Asia if recent news reports are anything to go by. The French airplane manufacturer has offered the 4.5th generation fighter jet to Malaysia as a replacement for MiG-29 Fulcrums, while negotiations for the purchase of 36 Rafales by India are said to be nearly complete.
Malaysia earlier this year said it keeps it MiG-29s flying for longer, but the French offer seems to be aimed at changing the minds in Kuala Lumpur. However, it could also be aimed a giving the final push for the Indian deal. In April this year, India announced it would buy 36 Rafales ‘in fly-away condition’, but negotiations have since been a struggle. Talks are now said to be in the final stages, although it has to be said a lot of misinformation has surrounded the Indian Rafale deal from the very start.
Indian intentions of buying even more Rafales were earlier this year reported as ‘of the table’.