The Slovak Air Force is bidding farewell to the MiG-29 after three decades. The type is to be phased out in late August. Until the 14 Lockheed Martin F-16C/D (F-16V) Block 70/72 jets ordered in 2018 arrive (expected to happen in 2024), Poland and the Czech Republic would jointly protect the Slovak airspace, within the scope of a joint memorandum. The Czech Republic would begin air policing over Slovakia as of September.
It was decided back in April that Poland would be protecting the skies over Slovakia. Minister Mariusz Błaszczak discussed the details of the memorandum during a meeting with his Slovak counterpart back then. The memorandum would allow Slovakia to ground its MiG-29 jets - this scenario has been considered for quite some time now.
Media reports have also been suggesting that Slovakia could potentially transfer its grounded fleet of MiG-29 jets to Ukraine. The matter is convoluted. In early July Eduard Heger, the PM of Slovakia said that Bratislava could send MiG-29 fighter aircraft and Soviet-made main battle tanks to Ukraine, without any details though. Up until now, the Heger's government has transferred the S-300 SAM systems to Ukraine. In exchange, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have deployed several Patriot batteries to Slovakia. The value of the transferred aid package was defined as EUR 69 million, including missiles and spares. This was not received well by Moscow. The Slovak aid package for Ukraine also involves the transfer of other armament and military equipment, including munitions for the 122 mm Grad/RM-70 rocket artillery systems. Bratislava has also provided Ukraine with oil and jet fuel. Recently a decision was made to transfer the first Zuzana 2 howitzers procured by Ukraine. Slovakia had also provided Kyiv with 4 Mi-17 and 1 Mi-2 helicopter, coming from the military surplus.
As Slovakia is in the process of grounding its MiG-29 jets, rumours have emerged that they would, or already have been transferred to Ukraine. A relevant report was issued by Parameter.sk. Minister Nad, meanwhile has been reiterating that it is up to the Ministry of Defence to decide on the fate of the MiG jets. On 14th August Jaroslav Nad denied the reports on the transfer of the Slovak MiG-29s to Ukraine. He added that the Slovak Fulcrums are not in Ukraine, but they are still stationed at the Slovak airbases. Nad said that Slovakia is considering the options regarding the future of those aircraft, but no final decisions have been reached. Talks involving the allies are also underway. This may suggest that Slovakia is seeking the support of third parties to diminish the transfer-related risks. Nad' did confirm the fact that Slovakia is planning to decommission the Fulcrums by the end of August.
The Slovak Fulcrums may be attractive to Ukraine for two reasons. Firstly, they are available, and they are stationed in a neighbouring state. Secondly, they are more modern than other variants, and they underwent a simple upgrade of the navigation and IFF systems so that they are NATO-compliant. It is possible that there would be a necessity to remove some of that equipment before the jets are transferred. However, the lifecycle management adopted may mean that they would be immediately available and that they could be operated longer than the Bulgarian aircraft since they have been regularly maintained by the manufacturer.
Jets for Ukraine - A Path Full of Challenges
At the beginning of the full-scale war, the Ukrainians, and Josep Borell, head of the EU diplomacy, have been informing that Kyiv may receive post-soviet aircraft from the EU member states. The matter was not discussed with the EU members, Poland included, and thus the concept was not followed through. This is also because no safe way was made available to deliver the aircraft - also for the donor nations.
Ever since then, reports have been suggesting that some nations may be willing to transfer the jets, provided that they would receive modern aircraft in exchange. Poland operates 28 MiG-29s, Slovakia has 11 fighters, and Bulgaria is the third active user of the Fulcrum in NATO. No formal transfer of aircraft has happened. However, we may be certain that spares, air-to-air missiles, or possibly dismantled aircraft could have been sent east. The latter matter emerged concerning the ex-Moldovian MiG-29 jets owned by the US.
It has been estimated that before the war broke out, Ukraine had 51 MiG-29 jets at its disposal, including 8 two-seaters. These were taking part in the air war over Kyiv during the first days of the war, with the Ghost of Kyiv legend being born, referring to a lone fighter ace fighting the Russian aviation over the capital city of Ukraine. The MiG-29s have been fighting for air dominance hand in hand with the Su-27s - 32 of which were being operated by the Ukrainians. Thanks to the high level of training and with limited support provided by the West (just minor equipment supplies, and precious intelligence), the Ukrainian Air Force is still an active player, effectively defending the Ukrainian airspace. This is even more pronounced, considering the ginormous disproportion of potential, when compared to Russia. Nonetheless, Ukraine is losing its well-trained pilots. For instance, recently Anton Lystopad was declared KIA. Back in 2019, he was nominated the best pilot in the Air Force.
Slovak Air Force
Bratislava is also operating a single 11-aircraft MiG-29 squadron, with the fighters being NATO compliant. These are to be replaced by 14 F-16C/D Block 70 jets. The F-16s have been already ordered, and they are going to be delivered as of 2024. That unit - the 1st Tactical Air Squadron - is based in Sliać, alongside the 2nd Tactical Air Squadron operating 8 L-39 Albatros jets. Both squadrons, along with the accompanying elements, form a Tactical Air Wing.
YouTube cover video The Slovak helicopter wing is based in Preszow, in the eastern part of Slovakia, including two support units, and two helicopter squadrons. So far, one of the squadrons has been operating 9 UH-60M Black Hawk support helicopters, while the other has been using 9 Mi-17 aircraft (13 were operated previously, but 4 were delivered to Ukraine). It is plausible that the aforesaid inventory is complemented by a single Mi-2 example.
The third wing deals with Airlift, and it is stationed at the Malacky base in the West, with a single squadron operating 2 C-27 Spartan medium airlifters, and five light L-410 Turbolets.