Czech premier Vladim¡r Spidla and his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda have underlined their support for a co-operative air defence programme. At a meeting in the Slovakian capital Bratislava last week, they agreed to define more detailed proposals within a month.

The countries - which split in 1993's "Velvet Divorce" - are considering integrating their air forces into a single air defence network.

Czech defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik says the countries would jointly purchase supersonic fighters and train pilots at the Slovak air force's flying school in Kosice, using the range near Sliac.

Tvrdik discussed the project earlier this year with the then-Slovak defence minister Jozef Stank. But talks were halted because of parliamentary elections in both countries.

Tvrd¡k, however, has rejected a proposal from the Czech opposition that the "joint sky" programme be extended to Hungary and Poland. "Our fighter pilots can reach the Temelin nuclear power station in something like two minutes, while Polish or Hungarian aircraft would need dozens of minutes - in other words just as much as supersonic aircraft from Germany," he says.

The earliest a joint Czech/Slovak supersonic fighter fleet could come into being is mid-2004, when Slovakia is due to join NATO.

The Czech air force relies on ageing Mikoyan MiG-21s, due to retire in 2005. Funding pressure forced cancellation of an order for 24 Saab/BAE Gripens. Slovakia has RSKMiG-29s, but lacks funding to upgrade them to NATO standards.

Source: Flight International