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Lockheed Martin announced the successful flight of the first Slovakian F-16 Block 70.
The flight occurred on Sep. 29, 2023 at Lockheed Martin’s production facility in Greenville, South Carolina, with test pilot Ryan ‘Cujo’ Blake successfully conducting multiple system tests to validate performance and supersonic capabilities during the flight.
Slovakia will be the first European country to receive the F-16 Block 70.
“The Slovak Air Force is taking significant steps forward with the capabilities of the F-16,” said OJ Sanchez, vice president and general manager, Integrated Fighter Group, Lockheed Martin, in a company news release. “The integration of this proven platform will allow the Slovak Air Force to effectively safeguard its borders and partner with allies across Europe, NATO and the world.”
Slovakia, a NATO member, signed a deal in 2018 to buy 14 jets (12 single-seaters and 2 two-seaters), worth around $1.6 billion, to replace ageing Russian-made MiG-29 planes, as a part of efforts to modernise its military. The Fulcrum had been the Slovak Air Force fighter force backbone since the service’s other type, the MiG-21, was grounded 20 years ago.
“The F-16 Block 70 offers allies and partners advanced 21st Century Security capabilities, affordable operating and lifecycle costs, and strategic partnership opportunities,” added Sanchez. “It’s a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft system that our Greenville, South Carolina, team is proud to build. The production line in Greenville is a national security asset, providing F-16 fighter capabilities to allies around the world, like Slovakia, who will rely on this platform for peacekeeping within their own borders and those of their partners.”
As already reported, given that Slovak Air Force F-16s are not in service yet and since the service Fulcrums were grounded in September 2022 (13 former Slovak Air Force MiG-29s were then donated to Ukraine in late March / April. As a compensation for the donation the US offered 12 AH-1Z Vipers attack helicopters to the country but the offer is yet to be discussed), air policing over Slovakia is currently undertaken by Slovakia’s neighbors – Czech and Hungarian JAS-39C Gripens (airbases Čáslav and Kecskemét), Polish F-16C (Łask) and German Eurofighters (Neuburg).
Slovak F-16 pilots will be trained at Morris Air National Guard Base (ANGB), Laughlin Air Force Base (AFB), Columbus AFB and Luke AFB flying T-6A Texan II, T-38C Talon and F-16 aircraft. It is expected that the first two F-16s will be delivered to Slovakia in Q2 of 2024; the remaining 12 aircraft will arrive in the upcoming two years.
The Vipers will be based at Sliač Air Base (AB), home of the 81st Wing, the unit tasked to provide the nation’s air policing. However, given the reconstruction works currently underway at Sliač AB the F-16s could be temporarily stationed at Kuchyňa / Malacky AB that hosts the 46th Wing, the Slovak Air Force transport wing.
Six countries have selected Block 70/72 aircraft. In addition to the current official backlog of 126 jets, Jordan last year signed an LOA (Letter of Offer and Acceptance) for 12 jets and Bulgaria signed an LOA for an additional eight jets. Once these are finalized, the backlog will increase to 146.
The F-16 is a strategic and valuable choice for many customers around the world seeking advanced fighter aircraft capabilities, regional and worldwide partnerships, and affordable lifecycle costs. More than 3,100 F-16s are operating today in 25 countries. The F-16 has flown an estimated 19.5 million flight hours and at least 13 million sorties. Today’s latest version, the Block 70/72, offers unparalleled capabilities and will be flown by six countries and counting.
Photo credit: Lockheed Martin
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