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Slovakia Delays Decision On Replacing Russian MiG-29 Jets

A MiG-29 from Russia is shown at the military airport in Batajnica, Serbia.

Slovakia says it is postponing a decision on whether to buy U.S.-made F-16s or Swedish Gripen fighters to replace its aging fleet of Russian-made MiG-29s.

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini on June 20 said he wanted to delay an expected decision to "see comparable offers to eliminate any doubts. This is a serious decision worth billions of euros."

The Defense Ministry had been expected to submit an analysis of the two options by June 29 for government approval.

NATO member Slovakia has a maintenance contract with Russia for its 12 MiG-29s until at least mid-2019, in a deal worth $25 million to $80 million a year.

Russian technicians are based at a Slovak military air base as part of the deal. They would remain in place even after a deal is signed for the new jets until delivery takes place.

Jaroslav Nad, an analyst from the Slovak Security Police Institute, said Gripen jets would take 18-24 months to be delivered, while F-16s would likely be delivered in 2023.

"Both options would be a step forward for Slovakia. However, there has been no public debate on whether the country needs the more expensive and more advanced F-16s or the more budget-friendly Gripens," he told Reuters.

Total costs of the jets and maintenance have not been disclosed.

Hungary and the Czech Republic have Gripen jets. Poland has a fleet of 48 F-16s, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., but also has kept some 30 MiG 29s.

Based on reporting by Reuters, TASR, and The Slovak Spectator