Nfter the rapid reaction and solidarity with the alliance, the troubles of staying for a long time follow, the Bundeswehr is already familiar with it. Within days of the Russian attack on Ukraine, two Patriot squadrons of the Luftwaffe from Husum were deployed to Slovakia to protect the Sliac military airport there. It was left uncovered after the government in Bratislava handed over the Soviet S-300 air defense system there to the Ukraine.
Along with the German Patriots, the Dutch also came to Slovakia. But while they withdrew again in late summer, two German squadrons with around 250 soldiers remained in Sliac on the airfield. With the general shortage, especially in the area of the severely thinned out air defense, this is difficult to sustain in the long run. However, according to Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht (SPD) in Bratislava, the Patriots will have to stay until the end of next year.
But if German squadrons are also to be relocated to Poland, things will get tight. The Bundeswehr therefore offers alternatives. A company of mountain troops was sent to Lest, about 200 kilometers east of Bratislava, for a NATO combat group. Together with the Czechs, Slovenes and Americans, they are permanently strengthening the alliance’s presence there. Minister Lambrecht visited the site on Tuesday.
Protection for repair posts
The Bundeswehr’s Mantis-type stationary anti-aircraft guns, which can engage targets at shorter distances, will also soon be coming to Slovakia. Where they are stationed is a matter for the Slovaks, they say. In any case, one of the systems is intended to protect the German post that was recently set up on the Slovakian side near the border with Ukraine. Weapons delivered to Ukraine are serviced and repaired here. As reported in Bratislava, the first three self-propelled howitzers, several Gepard anti-aircraft tanks and Mars rocket launchers have arrived to be repaired by mechanics from German companies.
All this helps in Ukraine’s fight against Russia, but also in strengthening NATO’s eastern flank. The Patriots, well-known and proven, are also considered the most visible sign of solidarity in Slovakia. Even the name of the well-known air defense system introduced in America in 1986 with a range of around 70 kilometers also has a political effect. This is one of the reasons why Poland has agreed to station German Patriot squadrons, despite all the criticism that the ruling PiS party usually criticizes Germany, especially during election campaigns. The preparatory work for this is progressing militarily well. However, it will be very difficult if not impossible to be present both there and in Slovakia. However, there is also a pre-election campaign mood in Bratislava, which increases the political value of the Patriots, even beyond military necessities.
Only a few MiG-29s operational
While NATO seemed to be assuming in its planning that the Germans would remain as usual for a long time, the question of the successor first had to be raised from Berlin, as they say. Adequate protection is “very important for the Slovak population,” said Lambrecht in Bratislava, and the intention was to replace withdrawing German squadrons with “similar or compatible systems”.
Its use is now somewhat questionable, because MiG-29 combat aircraft have so far been stationed at the Sliac air force base, but it is said that very few of them are still operational. If any. They are to be replaced by American F-16 fighter jets in the near future, the exact date is unknown. For the current situation, this means that there is not that much flight operation that needs to be protected there with the rare Patriot squadrons, so the systems could be used more in Poland.
That being said, there are now anti-aircraft systems that are less well known but potentially even more effective than the older Patriot weapons. Think of the Iris-T rockets with their launch vehicles and radar systems. According to the German soldiers here, the probability of hits is close to 100 percent for the systems in the Ukraine. If the Americans deliver Patriots to Ukraine, it is also to be expected that they will not hand over the latest, training-intensive version. The fact that Russia reacted so harshly to this eventuality could be due to the Patriots’ good reputation, which the system from the late phase of the Cold War still has.
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