WARSAW, Poland — Slovakia’s Ministry of Defence is eying the purchase of four F-16 fighter jets on top of the 14 aircraft already ordered, a move meant to compensate for Bratislava’s decision to scrap the purchase of 12 Bell AH-1Z Viper attack helos with AGM-114 Hellfire II air-to-ground missiles.

Last January, Lockheed Martin announced the first two of the 14 purchased F-16 fighters were delivered to Slovakia, with more jets expected to leave production lines until the end of this year. But even before the 2018 aircraft contract, valued at around $800 million, is completed, the Slovak Cabinet could place an additional order for a further four jets, according to Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Robert Kaliňák.

“Of the 14 fighters that we will have, three to four should be deployed 24 hours a day for the NATINADS system, which also significantly reduces the number of aircraft that can be used to fly,” he told local daily Pravda in an interview, referring to the NATO Integrated Air Defense System. “All these arguments together resulted in us opening new negotiations regarding the upgrade of our aircraft and adding four more to the fourteen.”

Local observers say the planned purchase could be partly animated by the government’s reluctance to pursue a helicopter acquisition initiated by the previous Cabinet which was ousted in October 2023.

Jaroslav Naď, the chairman of the Demokrati (Democrats) party and Slovakia’s former defense minister, told Defense News the government may be using the F-16 top-up to appease the United States and manufacturer Bell for scrapping the previous Viper deal.

“We need to acquire new helicopters for the Slovak military, and the additional purchase of aircraft is not going to cover this need,” Naď said. “It is also likely to cost much more than the approximately $340 million that Slovakia would spend on those helicopters,” he added. “The actual value of the Vipers and weapons is around $1 billion, so Slovakia was offered a huge discount. But now, if the government drops this deal, we could lose the opportunity to gain a modern helicopter fleet at such a price.”

Naď called the new talk of F-16s “quite surprising” because the country’s air force never requested additional planes during his tenure. “In the end, politicians should buy for the military what it needs, and not what they personally want,” he said.

Kaliňák, who is part of a far-right right government critical of Ukraine aid, has criticized the Viper offer as “disadvantageous” to Slovakia. He has also decried the previous Cabinet’s decision to donate 13 outdated Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters to Ukraine, alongside other weapons, to support the country’s defense against Russia’s ongoing invasion.

“The Slovak Defence Ministry has put the MiG-29s donated by the previous government without any existing legal analysis of such decision in the spotlight,” the Slovak ministry said in a statement last month. The result of an “internal investigation” was that there was no authority to dispose of the MiG-29 fleet, the statement reads.

Kaliňák said he will take issue up a notch, requesting Slovak prosecutors to launch an investigation into the 2023 transfer of MiG-29s and 2K12 Kub anti-aircraft missile systems by the previous government. The deputy prime minister claims then-Prime Minister Eduard Heger and Naď “weakened” Slovakia’s military.

Naď said he stands by the decision to support the Ukrainian military with Soviet-designed fighter jets and air defense systems.

“Slovakia transferred the same type of equipment that was transferred by many other countries, for instance Poland, but you don’t hear about the new Polish government blaming the previous government for supporting Ukraine,” he said.

Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, a populist leader who campaigned on a pro-Moscow platform, has led the country’s government since last October. During his electoral campaign, one of the politician’s main slogans was “Not a single round” for neighboring Ukraine, with Fico vowing he will end his nation’s military aid to Kyiv. On May 15, the prime minister was shot and gravely wounded in a politically-driven assassination attempt. Since his release from a hospital in central Slovakia in late May, Fico has gradually resumed his public activities.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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