THE CZECH REPUBLIC, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia have taken a step toward NATO integration by agreeing to a US Department of Defense (DoD) proposal to unify their respective air-defence and air-traffic-control systems.

As an incentive, the USA is offering $25 million over a two-year period in aid to help realise the programme.

Senior defence- and transport-ministry officials from the four countries, collectively known as the Visegrad, met earlier this month in Trencin, Slovakia, to discuss closer co-operation in the sphere of air-defence and air-traffic-control integration within the context of the DoD-sponsored Regional Airspace Initiative, originally proposed by US President Bill Clinton during the Prague summit held in 1994.

The conference was also attended by senior Pentagon officials who, when addressing the audience, underlined the Initiative's importance, stressing that it was not part of an effort to segregate the group from the Western security alliance.

"This offer is not intended to advocate a regional alliance among your four nations, nor is it intended to distract your attention away from NATO membership," said Emmett Paige Assistant US Secretary of Defence for Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence.

Paige stated that, by jointly developing a modernisation strategy for regional-airspace management, the four nations will demonstrate their resolve to achieve stability through clearly defined co-operative relationships with their neighbours.

According to Paige, the Pentagon is prepared to set aside up to $25 million to help establish state-of-the-art national command centres in each of the four Visegrad nations.

He stressed, however, the need for the four states to take the initiative immediately by making critical investment decisions which are the cornerstone of inter-operability with Western European countries.

The Assistant US Defence Secretary urged the defence and transport ministries to change aviation laws, and adopt Western standards for civilian control of airspace during peace time.

He also encouraged country representatives to begin funding programmes that would equip military aircraft with NATO-compatible transponders for improving flying safety.

Source: Flight International