The Slovak Republic is to open a training range and airfield to the US Air Force, becoming the first former Warsaw Pact country to allow their routine use by Western air forces. The ranges could be in USAF use by April.

A Slovak-US agreement, two years in development, gives the USAF access to the Kuchnya bombing range and nearby Malacky air base, about 25km (13.5nm) east of the Austrian border, for air-to-ground training. In return, the USA expects to spend about $1 million to upgrade the range and airfield. Initially it will deploy Boeing F-15Es and Lockheed Martin F-16C/Ds , then Fairchild A-10s and, potentially, Lockheed Martin AC-130 gunships four to six times a year for stays of up to two weeks. Other NATO air forces may eventually use the range and airfield.

As well as cutting the USAF's airlift needs and transportation costs to ranges it now uses in southern Europe, Tunisia and Turkey, "the greatest benefit is the opportunity for further interoperability with the Slovak air force", says Gen John Jumper, commander of US Air Forces in Europe.

Interoperability is key to NATO doctrine. Slovakia's aspirations to join the alliance would be furthered by increasing familiarity between the USA and Slovak air forces.

Source: Flight International