The farewell of the MiG-29 Fulcrum, from the Slovak Air Force, was the most important moment of the Slovakian International Air Fest 2022 (SIAF) that took place at Malacky airport on August 27 and 28, 2022.
Slovakia, a NATO member and Ukraine’s neighbour, operates a fleet of 12 MiG-29 fighter jets in the 1st Fighter Squadron.
The history of the 1 Fighter Squadron (1 SLt) of the Slovak Air Force dates back to October 1992, when Slovak pilots underwent a MiG-29 Fulcrum conversion course held at Zatec AFB in the former Czechoslovak Federal Republic, which later became made the base of 1 SLt at Sliač Air Base.
The Fulcrums flew to Sliač Air Base in December 1992. Just a few days later, on Jan. 1, 1993, Czechoslovakia peacefully split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, resulting in the disbandment of the Czechoslovak Army and the creation of the Army of the Czech Republic and the Slovak Armed Forces.
Over the next two years the unit designation changed from 1st Fighter Squadron (1 Stíhacia Letka) to being renamed in early 1995 as 311 Stíhacia Letka (1st Squadron of the 31st Fighter Wing) and finally in October 2001 to 1st Stíhacia Letca of Stíhacie Letecke Krídlo (Fighter Wing).
After more than 30 years of service, the planes will now be grounded. “The fighters are still in Sliača. They will protect our airspace until the end of August, on Aug. 27 and 28 you will see them at SIAF where they will officially say goodbye,” Defense Minister Jaroslav Naď wrote on Twitter.
Many have speculated in recent months about whether or not to hand over the MiG-29s to Ukraine so that it can conveniently defend itself in the face of the existing gap it has with the invading Russian forces. As reported by The Aviationist, the MiG-29s are being used by the Ukrainian Air Force in various roles, including the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses), thanks to the integration of the AGM-88 HARM (High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile).
This matter began in April when Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger said his country could send MiG-29 jets to Ukraine, but did not elaborate. In early July, Eduard Heger said his country could send its Soviet-made MiG-29 fighter jets and tanks to Ukraine, but declined to discuss the details.
During SIAF, Slovak Defence Minister Jaroslav told reporters that Bratislava remained ready to send the planes to neighbouring Ukraine but no deal had yet been reached, Reuters reported. “There is a political will, and it makes sense, to help those who need help,” Nad said. “The possibility is on the table, and once there is an agreement we will inform you.”
The Slovak Air Force ordered 14 F-16 Block 70/72 aircraft as a replacement for its MiG-29 fleet in 2018 but the Russian invasion of Ukraine caused logistical problems with the maintenance of the aircraft (which had been provided by Russian technicians). But the COVID-19 pandemic has caused problems in the production of Slovak Vipers: in fact, the first aircraft that were supposed to arrive in the country in 2022/23 are now scheduled to be delivered in the first half of 2024. The expectation is that the F-16s Slovaks will be ready to serve the national QRA in 2025.
To address the lack of fighter jets, the government of the Czech Republic approved the Slovak request for help to protect Slovak airspace. The Czech Air Force will protect its eastern neighbour’s airspace with the Polish Air Force, which approved the air policing mission earlier this year in April. Air patrol over Slovakia will start in September and will last until the end of 2023; however, in case of F-16 delivery issues to Slovakia, the mission could be extended until the end of 2024.
The agreement between the three nations was signed last Saturday, Aug. 27, 2022, by the Slovak Defense Minister Jaroslav Nad, his Czech counterpart Jana Cernochova and the Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak.
“The agreement will come into effect on September 1, when Slovakia’s MiG-29 fighter jets will be grounded,” Defense Ministry spokeswoman Martina Koval Kakascikova said.
Thus, the era of Soviet Fulcrum aircraft comes to an end, where a total of 52 pilots were trained, flown about 20,246 hours; for those who attended it, the SIAF 2022 air show was the last opportunity to see the Slovak Air Force MiG-29 fly. On Aug. 25 and 26, we have taken part in air-to-air photo missions arranged by Ironbird photography which allowed us to shoot the last flying MiG-29s before they were retired.
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