BRATISLAVA --- The Slovak Defense Ministry is planning to modernize the Army's Mi-17 transport helos. Under the modernization program, the helicopters' equipment would be stripped and they would be completely revamped with newer engines, transmitters, night-vision equipment, missiles, etc.
The service lives of the Mi-17s are set to expire in 2015, but Slovakia is hoping that the modernization program will push their lifespan out another 15 years, to 2030.
Such plans have drawn skepticism from outside government circles, where the first question posed is where the cash-strapped Defense Ministry will find the funding for such an effort. Further, the Defense Ministry wants to install laser sights in the Mi-17s, along with systems for fending off laser- and radar-guided missiles. The plan then is to deploy the helicopters in Afghanistan, even though by then the Slovak mission may be winding down.
Four of the Slovak armed forces' 14 Mi-17 helicopters were converted to the search-and-rescue role under an upgrade program begun in 2005 at LOT Trencin and completed in 2008.
How many of the Mi-17s would undergo the latest modernization program, if undertaken, has yet to be determined. Critics argue that the Defense Ministry's plan for such an ambitious program is a reflection of the failure to properly invest in a long-term equipment plan.
Instead of pumping money into outdated and superfluous equipment, they contend, the Defense Ministry should rid itself of certain items and focus on niche specialization within NATO, which would be cheaper and more relevant to the Army's purpose.