Andrew Doyle/MUNICH

Slovakia PLANS to acquire up to 60 advanced trainer and light attack aircraft and upgrade its Mil Mi-24 Hind battlefield helicopters with Western avionics. Tenders could be issued in June.

The country, which has ambitions to join NATO, plans to evaluate the Aermacchi MB339, Aero Vodochody L-159, British Aerospace Hawk and YakovlevYak-130 and aims to decide by the end of this year. It requires 12 aircraft in a two-seat trainer configuration and up to 48 for subsonic multi-role attack missions, say sources close to the Slovak Government.

The helicopter upgrade is expected to involve around 35 aircraft and will include a new weapons management system, autopilot, forward-looking infrared sensor and navigation and communications systems, plus anti-tank armament and main rotor enhancements.

Doubts remain over how the purchases will be funded, due to the parlous state of Slovakia's economy. The government had pledged to reduce spending by 4% during the first half of this year. The impact of the presidential elections on 29 May may cloud the picture.

The trainers would replace Aero L-29s and L-39s from next year, and its Sukhoi Su-22s, Su-25s and Mikoyan MiG-21s "as soon as possible", the sources say. Slovakia's 24 MiG-29s are to be retained.

The government is expected to come under pressure to buy Yak-130s because the aircraft's DV-2 powerplants would be manufactured in Slovakia by privately owned engine company Povajske Stroyarny. This has prompted AlliedSignal and Rolls-Royce - which build the L-159's F124 and the Hawk's Adour engines, respectively - to hold discussions with Povajske on possible industrial co-operation should one of the Western types be selected. The UK engine maker confirms talks are underway but says they are only at the preliminary stage.

The chairman of Povajske parent PSLM, which is lobbying the government to help fund the engine programme, recently said that it would cost around $60 million to complete development and certification of the "Westernised" DV-2S.Earlier versions power the L-39 and L-59. The engine is produced in Russia as the Klimov RD-35.

Slovakia's Ministry of Defence is in favour of the selection of an aircraft powered by a Western engine, linked with industrial participation for Povajske.

The government is believed to have rejected an offer of Yak-130s from Russia as offset against its financial debt to Slovakia.

Italy's Aermacchi is to be invited to bid the MB339 despite holding a 50% stake in the Yak-130 programme, alongside Yakovlev and Sokol which own 25% each.

Source: Flight International