U.S. Patriot systems in the Slovak Defence Ministry's spotlight

 12. 02. 2024      Category: Ground forces

Slovakia has for long been dealing with a lack of air defence capabilities. After donating its only S-300 PMU system and parts of 2K12 KUB sets to the Ukraine, allies have stepped in to protect the Slovak sky. They temporarily deployed Patriot and SAMP/T Mamba systems on Slovak territory, and Germany then donated two MANTIS air defence systems to Slovakia free of charge. Last September, the Slovak Ministry of Defence selected the Polish Piorun and the Israeli Barak MX as suitable systems for building modern air defence capabilities. Recently, the current head of the ministry, Robert Kaliňák, informed that Slovakia's air defence could also be complemented by U.S. Patriot systems.

Picture: MIM-104 Patriot | U.S. Army
Picture: MIM-104 Patriot | U.S. Army

The improvement of air defence has been a much discussed topic over the last few months in connection with the modernisation of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic (AF SR). Since the establishment of the independent Slovak Republic, the Slovak Armed Forces have relied on Soviet-era anti-aircraft systems such as the S-300 PMU, 2K12 Kub and 9K38 Igla portable systems. However, after the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops, the former leadership of the Ministry of Defence, and the Slovak government itself, decided to donate the S-300 PMU and parts of the 2K12 Kub systems to Ukraine, which further reduced the capabilities of the Slovak Armed Forces in the field of air defence, and Slovakia had to turn to its allies in the North Atlantic Alliance. The Netherlands, Germany and the United States temporarily deployed Patriot systems on Slovak territory in spring 2022, but all of them were withdrawn last year. Italy also contributed to Slovakia's defence, installing a SAMP/T Mamba system at Kuchyňa airport last March, while Germany donated two MANTIS short-range air defence systems to Slovakia.

In February 2023, the Ministry of Defence published a feasibility study on the acquisition of air defence systems. As the ministry itself states in the document, the ongoing war in Ukraine has highlighted the need to develop air and missile defence capabilities. It is for this reason that the Slovak Ministry of Defence has presented a plan in the feasibility study on how it intends to proceed in building the necessary air defence capabilities. The acquisition of air defence assets is to be carried out in four stages until 2035, with Slovakia purchasing 36 Polish-made Piorun portable air defence sets and the Israeli Barak MX medium-range air defence system in the first stage. 

Thinking about Patriots

The current head of the defence ministry, Robert Kaliňák, recently told in TV discussion "O 5 minút 12" that in addition to the ongoing negotiations with Israel and Poland, he would like to start talks with the United States about the possible acquisition of Patriot systems. To acquire these air defence assets, the defence ministry's leadership would like to use the nearly $700 million that the U.S. has offered to Slovakia for the acquisition of Viper helicopters in compensation for the donation of MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Patriot systems are also expected to be part of the European Sky Shield Initiative project.

As Defence Minister Robert Kaliňák further explained, Slovakia does not need the Viper attack helicopters now, as these helicopters are the cherry on the cake, which Slovakia does not have yet. At the same time, it is necessary to protect not only critical infrastructure, but also civilian objects. Today, the American-made Patriot systems are among the most widely used air defence systems in the world, with a maximum range of about 160 kilometres. It is deployed in a total of 18 countries, including the U.S., Germany, Poland, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and is now actively involved in the defence of Ukrainian airspace. The latest version of the system today is the PAC-3, which is characterised by its high accuracy and is based on hit-to-kill technology, which means that the destruction of a target occurs by a direct hit rather than through an explosion. 

Former Defence Minister Jaroslav Naď has also expressed his views on the possible procurement of Patriot kits. He is convinced that Slovakia should accept the offer to buy Viper helicopters from the United States, as it will pay for 12 helicopters from its own funds for approximately 340 million euros and the rest will be financed through the U.S. defence mechanism FMF (Foreign Military Financing). In addition, according to the former defence minister, Slovakia would need at least four Patriot batteries, which Slovakia cannot afford. At the same time, Jaroslav Naď pointed out that, depending on the specific type of missiles, the Barak MX missile complex, the acquisition of which was approved by the official government last autumn, has comparable capabilities to the Patriot systems. 

Whether the Slovak defence ministry will be able to negotiate a discount on the U.S. Patriot air defence systems will remain a question for at least a few more weeks. By acquiring Patriot systems, Slovakia would significantly increase its capabilities in the area of air defence and, together with the Piorun and Barak MX sets, would build a multi-layered air shield. On the other hand, the cost of the acquisition of the system, the necessary development of infrastructure and, last but not least, the possibility of involving the domestic defence industry, which could return part of the potential investment to the state budget, must be taken into account.

 Author: Otto Doka