Lockheed Martin was awarded an almost $800 million contract to produce and support F-16 fighter jets for Slovakia, the U.S. Department of Defense said in a release.
The $799,955,939 firm-fixed-price incentive contract (FA8615-19-C-6053) provides for the production and support of 14 F-16 block 70 aircraft for the Slovak Republic, and is expected to be completed by January 31, 2024, the Wednesday, July 31 release said.
Slovakia’s purchase of F-16s to replace its Russian MiG-29 fighter jets – slated as the NATO member’s biggest-ever military purchase – has long been controversial.
Slovakia had previously been in talks to purchase Saab Gripen multirole fighter jets from Sweden, but Defense Minister Peter Gajdoš stalled those discussions and invited other bidders, with the field eventually narrowing in February 2018 to a choice between F-16 Vipers and JAS-39 C/D Gripens.
Gajdos is from the hard-right nationalist eurosceptic Slovak National Party (SNS), a junior coalition partner to Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini’s center-left Direction – Social Democracy (Smer-SD) party.
Among its nearest neighbours, Hungary and the Czech Republic operate Gripen jets, while Poland has fleet of F-16s. Slovakia and the Czech Republic have a “joint sky” agreement where the two help protect each other’s air space, and could have also shared maintenance and pilot training if Slovakia had chosen Gripen.
In April 2018, the U.S. State Department approved an estimated $2.91 billion sale of 14 F-16 Viper aircraft to Slovakia, along with an extensive list of equipment, munitions, support and training, and that July, Pellegrini said the cabinet had accepted a proposal presented by Gajdos to purchase F-16s, arguing that although the initial outlay for the F-16 was several hundred million euro higher than for the Gripen, over their 30-year life the F-16s were less expensive.
“Slovakia will pay €1.589 billion [$1.8 billion] for 14 fighter jets, pilot training, ammunition and two-year logistical support,” Pellegrini said at the time, Reuters reported.
In September Lockheed Martin vice president Orlando Carvalho said that the first four F-16s would arrive in Slovakia in early 2023, and that pilot training was scheduled to begin by this year. He said around 22 pilots were expected to be trained along with more than 150 maintainers.
In November, the Slovak Ministry of Defence announced that it had signed deals to procure 14 Lockheed Martin-made F-16 jets, munitions, logistics support and pilot and ground crew training, in a deal that was valued at almost €1.6 billion ($1.8 billion), but hours later, Pellegrini issued a statement saying that the f-16 contracts were invalid because they had not been approved by the finance ministry.
That controversy was apparently resolved in December, when Gajdoš and Lockheed Martin vice-president Ana Wugofski signed contracts for 14 F-16 aircraft, equipment, support and training, the Slovak Spectator reported, adding that the first four F-16 jets would be delivered in 2022, and the remainder by the end of 2023.
According to the Spectator, 12 single-seat aircraft and two two-seat trainer jets have been ordered.
International interest in the F-16 Fighting Falcon, a combat-proven fourth generation fighter aircraft that first flew in 1974 remains high.
The F-16 Block 70/72 is the newest and most advanced F-16 configuration to date, with a structural life more than 50 percent beyond that of previous F-16 aircraft, according to Lockheed Martin. It features an active radar with new avionics and software that takes advantage of new technologies.
The F-16 Viper variant includes an active electronically scanned array radar, a new mission computer and electronic warfare suite, automated ground collision avoidance system, and various cockpit improvements. It first flew in October 2015.