Lessons from the Kosovo conflict in neighbouring Yugoslavia last year has brought forward a Hungarian Government review of its armed forces. The air force is preparing to ground many of its ageing fighters.

The review could lead to a dramatic reduction in the armed forces - with personnel numbers shrinking overall by 15,000, to 45,000 - the retirement of Soviet-era equipment and the closure of at least 25 bases. The policy is aimed at creating smaller, more flexible professional forces.

Hungarian chief of the general staff Gen Lijos Fodor says Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbeds will be grounded this year and withdrawn next year, after a decision not to upgrade the aircraft.

This will mean the disbandment of the 47th Tactical Fighter Regiment at Pápa, with the airfield - one of the better-equipped examples - becoming a "base airfield", with a token ground unit similar to that at Taszár, which was used by US aircraft during Operation Allied Force against Yugoslavia. Pilots and technicians on the MiG-21s are expected to be included in the personnel cuts.

The MAPO Mig-29 Fulcrums are closer to a long-awaited upgrade programme, due to start this year. Trial work on one aircraft is to be undertaken by DaimlerChrysler Aerospace (Dasa). The other 21 single-seaters will be upgraded between 2001 and 2004, while a decision to upgrade six MiG-29UB trainers will not be made until closer to the end of the MiG-29A programme.

Dasa and MAPO of Russia are bidding for the fleet upgrade, while Hungary's Danubian Aircraft will be the domestic base for the work.

The upgrade has become increasingly important as a competition to supply 36 newer fighters has slipped, with procurement not expected to start until 2008.

The 27 MiG-29s will be required to provide 24h national air defence and meet Hungarian commitments to NATO.

Source: Flight International