On Jun. 27, 2022 the government of the Czech Republic has approved the Slovak request with help over guarding the Slovakian air space. The request was official after meeting between the Slovak Minister of Defense Jaroslav Naď and his Czech counterpart Jana Černochová.
The Czech Air Force will guard the air space of its eastern neighbor with Polish Air Force, which approved the air policing mission earlier this year in April. The air pollicing over Slovakia will be Czech Air Force’s third foreign air pollicing mission, after similar missions over Island and Lithuania. The air patrolling over Slovakia is supposed to start at September this year and last until the end of 2023; however, due to the delivery problems with F-16 to Slovakia the mission might be prolonged until the end of 2024.
The Czech Air Force will use its only fighter type in the role – the JAS-39C/D Gripen. The air patrolling will be provided from the Čáslav air base by the Czech national QRA, which lays around 200 km from the Slovak borders – as the Grpens, which could be used for the Slovak QRA, are still ongoing their mission in Baltics. Noteworthy Čáslav air base has a small logistical problem: since its take-off runway is oriented to west, the Czech pilots have to change their flight path as soon as they take off. However, the option to use local Slovak air bases Kuchyňa and Sliač as soon as the Czech Gripens return from Lithuania is on the table. It’s worth to mention that Sliač air base will be modernized for the future arrival of the already purchased Slovak F-16s Block 70/72. Czech Air Force currently operates five Gripens in air policing mission over Lithuania, which was prolonged until the end of September. The country’s fleet consists of 14 Gripens (12x C version and 2x D two-seat version). The only one fighter squadron therefore has its limits.
The air patrolling over Slovakia was planned to be done only by the Polish Air Force. The Polish fighters, however, found themselves “overworked” with patrolling over their own territory (as the country borders with Russia (Kaliningrad), Belarus and Ukraine). Therefore, Czechia, as the both politically and culturally closest country to Slovakia, was also chosen for the QRA.
Poznań air base, from which the Polish pilots undertake air policing duties, is located 400 km from the Slovak borders – double distance than in the case of the Czech Air Force. Various sources claim that Czechia and Poland asked for dividing the Slovak air space into two parts – in which Czech Air Force would patrol over southwest territory (including the country’s capital Bratislava), while Polish Air Force over northeast territory (probably including the Slovak-Ukrainian borders). The Slovak side however didn’t agree with the partition and preferred both countries to cover the whole territory and coordinate their flights together in case of need. The details of the patrolling mission are due to be described and set in a dedicated agreement, which is supposed to be signed in August. A similar agreement was signed between Czechia and Slovakia already in 2019.
Both Czech and Slovak Air Forces will receive new fighter jets in the future.
The Slovak Air Force ordered 14 F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft as replacement for their MiG-29AS fleet in 2018. The Slovak Fulcrums are expected to be grounded since this summer, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused logistical problems with the maintenance of the aircraft (which had been provided by Russian technicians). But the COVID-19 pandemic caused problems with production of Slovak Vipers: in fact, the first aircraft that were supposed to arrive in the country in 2022/23 are now slated to be delivered in the first half of 2024. It’s expected that the Slovak F-16s will be ready to serve the national QRA in 2025.
Czechia meanwhile decided to procure 24 F-35 Lightning II stealth fighters, expanding the national fighter power by one more fighter squadron. The exact details of the potential purchase are yet to be discussed.
Photo credit: U.S. Air Force
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