The first pilots of the Slovak Air Force to fly the new F-16s were ceremonially inducted
The purchase of new F-16V Block 70/72 fighter aircraft for the Slovak Air Force is one of the largest modernisation projects of the Slovak Ministry of Defence. Although Slovak airmen are not due to receive the first units of the new F-16Vs until 2023, the first pilots of the new fighter aircraft were ceremonially inducted in the United States.
The contract for the purchase of the new F-16V Block 70/72 fighter jets was signed in 2018 by the Ministry of Defence under the leadership of then Minister Petr Gajdos. The new fighter aircraft will replace the outdated MiG-29AS/UBS aircraft in the Slovak Air Force's armament, some of which are no longer operational. The new F-16V fighter aircraft will serve in the 81st Otto Smik Wing at Sliač. In total, Slovakia is expected to pay €1.589 billion for the new F-16Vs. This amount includes, in addition to the aircraft, the training of 22 pilots and 160 ground staff, ammunition and logistics support. However, according to the current defence minister, Jaroslav Nada, the final price will exceed the original €1.589 billion. Deliveries of the F-16V fighter jets are scheduled to take place in 2023 and 2024.
Although the US side will not deliver the first seven units of the new F-16V fighter aircraft to Slovakia until 2023, the necessary training of future pilots of these aircraft is already underway. The training is taking place first in Slovakia, where pilots are improving their English and aviation phraseology and training on small propeller aircraft and L-39CM trainers. The pilots then undergo training in the United States, where 16 Slovak pilots are currently trained, according to the latest information. In the United States, the pilots first undergo training flights on T-6 and T-38 aircraft and then on F-16s of the US Air Force.
In October this year, a delegation from the Ministry of Defence, the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic, including representatives of the Slovak National Council Committee for Defence and Security and the General Staff of the Slovak Armed Forces, visited the Slovak pilots at the base in Arizona. The delegation was led by Minister of Defence Jaroslav Nadě, who visited the Lockheed Martin plant in Greenville, South Carolina, where he was briefed on the status of F-16V production for the Slovak Air Force.
The training of Slovak pilots reached a new milestone in the first half of November. From 7 to 14 November, a delegation of the Slovak Air Force, led by Brigadier General Róbert Tóth, visited the United States, the main purpose of which was to attend the graduation ceremony of four Slovak pilots who had completed the two-year F-16 Basic course. This course took place at the Morris Air National Guard Base in Tucson, Arizona. The actual graduation of the four Slovak pilots took place in the representative premises of the Pima Air & Space Museum in Tucson, which is one of the largest aviation museums in the USA and has more than 400 aircraft in its collection. Brigadier General and Commander-in-Chief of the 162nd Fighter Wing Jeffrey Buttler, who is also the Commander of Morris Air National Guard Base, spoke highly of the Slovak pilots and emphasized the importance of modernizing the Slovak supersonic air force.
The first four pilots will continue to receive additional training, during which the pilots will gain further experience in operating the F-16 fighter aircraft. The training of Slovak pilots to operate the new F-16V fighter aircraft will continue until 2028, when the last graduates of the course are expected to return from the United States.