THE ROYAL Netherlands Air Force is conducting force structure and procurement studies for Slovenia as part of the ex-Yugoslavian republic's attempts to establish an independent air force.

Slovenia began talks with the Netherlands Government in the third quarter of 1996 for assistance in establishing its air force, viewing the Netherlands as an "honest broker", say industry sources.

Dutch defence minister J J Voorhoeve met his Slovenian counterpart Jello Kacin in September 1996, with the meeting resulting in the Dutch air force deploying several Lockheed Martin F-16s to Ljubljana in Slovenia during November 1996.

Slovenia had initially considered acquiring ten Israel Aircraft Industries Kfir fighters. Its preference now appears to be for the F-16, although the Saab JAS39 Gripen and Dassault Mirage 2000 will also be considered.

The Dutch air force has put forward several options for the Slovenians , built around the acquisition of up to two squadrons of combat aircraft. The air force studied new-build and refurbished F-16s, as well as making recommendations about pilot training.

The air force has some F-16s in storage and has considered selling them. In a letter to the Dutch parliamentary defence committee, however, Voorhoeve discounts the possibility that these might be sold to Slovenia. Another option would be to initially lease around a dozen F-16A/Bs from Lockheed Martin.

The two countries are working on a co-operation deal, with Slovenia offering the Dutch training opportunities in mountainous terrain for its Air Mobile Brigade.

Source: Flight International