Slovakia to get new F-16 fighter jets a year later

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Force airman marshals an F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft at the 86th Air Base Romania

PRAGUE (Reuters) - The first deliveries of new U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to Slovakia will come a year later than expected, in 2024, the Slovak Defence Ministry said on Thursday.

The ministry said the delay was due to supply issues coming from the two-year-old coronavirus pandemic and the global chip shortage.

"The U.S. government notified Slovak government about the delay in delivery of F-16 fighter jets by 12-14 months," the ministry said.

It said the first deliveries should arrive in the first half of 2024.

Slovakia, a NATO member, signed a deal in 2018 to buy 14 jets, worth around $1.6 billion, to replace ageing Russian-made MiG-29 planes, as a part of efforts to modernise its military.

It had picked the F-16s made by Lockheed Martin Corp over cheaper Swedish Gripen jets produced by Saab.

The ministry said that, despite the delay, it would continue to be able to protect its skies.

Slovakia is one of the countries in the European Union's east that borders Ukraine. More than 165,000 refugees have fled to Slovakia since Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

NATO has sought to strengthen its presence in eastern member states in the wake of Russia's invasion, and Slovakia's government this week approved hosting up to 2,100 foreign troops in a battle group.

(Reporting by Robert Muller; editing by Jonathan Oatis)