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WARSAW — Slovakia's Defense Ministry is planning to sign a deal to lease Saab JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets from the aircraft manufacturer following the parliamentary election which is scheduled for March 2016, the ministry's spokesman told local business daily E15.

The Slovak Air Force is aiming to ink a contract under which it will be provided with eight fighter jets enabled with 1,200 flight hours per year. The deal is to be modeled on a similar lease contract signed by neighboring Czech Republic. Prague pays some 1.3 billion krona (US $53 million) annually to operate 14 JAS-39 Gripen aircraft enabled with 2,200 flight hours per year.

Should the Slovak military operate the same type of aircraft which are used by the Czech Air Force, the two countries could pursue their plans to increase the interoperability of their respective air forces.

The March vote will see the ruling left-wing Smer-Social Democracy party of Prime Minister Robert Fico compete against the predominantly centrist and right-wing opposition parties. Fico has served as Slovakia's prime minister since April 2012.

An opinion poll published by local news agency SITA last December indicated that Smer-SD has the largest popular support among the contending parties, with 42.2 percent of the total.

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