Defence Ministry Failed to Prove That Purchase of F-16 Jets Was Necessary

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NKU director Karol Mitrik (stock photo by TASR)

Bratislava, June 25 (TASR) – The Defence Ministry has failed to prove that the purchase of 14 American F-16 jet fighters in 2018, the most expensive military acquisition in the history of Slovakia, was justified, while the procurement process itself and its approval were not in accordance with the rules, according to a Supreme Audit Office (NKU) analytical report on the procurement of the F-16 jets presented by NKU director Karol Mitrik at a press briefing on Friday.

Mitrik pointed to the fact that the former government made a decision to procure the jet fighters at a time when defence strategies hadn’t been updated. “And unlike, for instance, Bulgaria, which carried out a similar purchase, the acquisition wasn’t even approved by Parliament,” he said.

In addition, NKU pointed to the total costs, which involve not only the purchase price but also maintenance costs. “The total sum climbs to about €6.2 billion over the course of 40 years. These facts have never been the subject of parliamentary debate or public discussion,” claimed NKU vice-chair Lubomir Andrassy.

Furthermore, the defence ministry has never proven that the F-16 fighters were a more advantageous choice than other options. NKU director Mistrik stated that the procurement also flies in the face of Slovakia’s commitment to NATO to modernise its military.

“The purchase of 14 F-16 jet fighters exceeds the 2017 capability targets and drains finances from the delayed project of forming a heavy mechanised brigade. The commitments towards NATO don’t include procuring jet fighters,” he noted. The contract for 14 F-16 C/D Block 70 jet fighters was concluded by Slovakia in late 2018.

The fighters were supposed to cost €1.6 billion. The agreement also includes equipment and armaments, logistics support and training of flight and ground personnel. The Defence Ministry is currently holding talks with the American side on rearranging the payment instalments.

In its response, the Slovak National Party (SNS), which was in charge of the Defence Ministry at the time of the purchase, told TASR on Friday that NKU’s claims stem from absolute ignorance.

SNS pointed out that it was the Slovak Armed Forces that determined the number of fighter jets needed, following consultations with representatives of allied states. In addition, SNS said that the decision to go ahead with the procurement was taken by the entire government and not just former defence minister Peter Gajdos (2016-20).

“Had the Slovak Republic not purchased any aircraft, we would have had foreign armed forces present here by now, paying them more than €60 million yearly to protect our airspace,” stated the party.

SNS claimed that it is unprofessional and tendentious to compare American F-16s with Swedish Gripen jets, added that the purchased aircraft can be sold at any time. “And it’s always better [to buy] than to rent aircraft in the way the Czech Republic does. When you compare the prices of purchase and rental, it’s self-evident,” added the party.