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'Political Gesture': Slovakia to Replace Russia's MiGs with US F-16s

© AP Photo / Burhan OzbiliciDanish air forces F-16 fighter
Danish air forces F-16 fighter - Sputnik International
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The US State Department has given the nod to the sale of 2.91 billion dollars’ worth of F-16 Block 70/72 fighter jets to Slovakia as a replacement for the country’s fleet of Russian MiG-29s.

Sputnik asked Vladimir Popov, a former Air Force pilot and now editor-in-chief of the Aviapanorama journal to say a few words about the two planes’ strong and weak points, their modernization potential and ability to change the existing balance of forces in Europe.

MiG-29 – a Real Survivor

Vladimir Popov said that both the MiG-29 and the F-16 belong to the same class of light fighter jets with fairly similar tactical and technical characteristics.

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Popov pointed to the MiG’s dual-engine configuration as an asset improving its combat survivability and enabling it to survive direct missile hits. “Even if one of its engines is hit, can keep flying on the other and return to base,” Popov said.

Performance Comparison

The expert said that the Mig-29’s climb rate is 330 meters a second compared to the F-16’s 220-290. Moreover, the MiG can skim the ground at just 340 kilometers an hour (211 miles an hour), while its US counterpart may stall when flying under 390-420 kilometers an hour (242-260 miles an hour).

The MiG’s maximum high altitude speed is up to 2.3 Mach while that of the F-16 does not exceed 2 Mach.

F-16’s Fortes: Fuel, Ammo

The F-16 offers good cockpit visibility, is fuel efficient and can use a wide array of weapons, advanced onboard electronics and radar equipment.

Popov concluded by saying that both jets are highly serviceable, have a great potential for modernization and may eventually have their service life extended to 25 years and beyond.

$2.9 billion: Is It Very Much?

Popov believes that even though $2.9 billion for a squadron of 14 jets is a whole lot of money, this could also include the cost of retraining the first three or four pilots and their technical crews, and that switching to F-16s from flying Russian MiG-29s would hardly be a problem.

Economic or Political Gain?

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According to Vladimir Popov, the Slovak government made its choice based on political considerations, rather than the planes’ technical characteristics.

“The general anti-Russian hysteria has certainly been a factor here,” Popov said, adding that “modernizing an existing fleet of modern aircraft is always easier, cheaper and, ultimately, more economically efficient for any country.”

“With the MiG-29 already at their disposal, the Slovaks could have found it  easier to modernize  them, rather than spend additional money on retraining pilots and technicians, overhauling command centers and airfields and buying additional aircraft-servicing vehicles,” Popov explained.

What Now?

Vladimir Popov believes that the purchase of the F-16s by Slovakia will hardly change the existing balance of forces in Europe.

“The addition of 14 F-16s will have no practical consequence for NATO’s air power on the European theater,” Popov concluded.

READ MORE: US Approves $200Mln Maintenance Deal for Poland's F-16 Fleet

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