The first of two C-27J NG aircraft has been delivered to Slovenia last week. It’s the largest airplane ever operated by the country’s Armed Forces.
On Dec. 19, 2023, the first of two C-27J Next Generation aircraft for the Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) landed at Cerklje ob Krki AB, Slovenia. The airlifter is the biggest airplane ever operated by the country’s Armed Forces and brings new capabilities to the local military.
Until now the transport role was covered by the single L-410 Turbolet and the two PC-6 Turbo Porters. Sometimes the Falcon 2000, primarily intended for VIP transport, was also used for MEDEVAC (Medical Evacuation) and other needs of the SAF. Slovenia is also one of the 12 members of the Strategic Airlift Capability based at Pápa AB in Hungary and has an available quota of 60 flight hours per year. Three military members serve in the Heavy Airlift Wing and the experience acquired there will be useful to establish the Initial operating capability of the Spartan.
The official delivery ceremony was held in Cerklje ob Krki AB on Dec. 20, 2023. The aircraft took off from the same base earlier and made a flypast with a couple of PC-9M Hudournik trainers of the 152nd Fixed Wing Squadron, which joined the Spartan flying from Ljubljana airport. After the formation broke off it was time for a short and intense flight display of the capabilities of the Spartan, piloted by Leonardo’s test pilots.
Upon landing, the aircraft was welcomed by a water cannon salute and a Slovenian flag was waved from the cockpit.
During the formal part of the ceremony we assisted to the speeches of Colonel Janez Gaube, commander of the 15th Aviation Regiment of the Slovenian Armed Forces, Lieutenant General Luciano Portolano, Secretariat General of Defence/National Armaments Directorate of the Italian MoD, Dario Marfè, Senior Vice President of Commercial, CSS&T & Proprietary Programs Business of Leonardo’s Aircraft Division and the Slovenian MoD Marjan Šarec.
The main themes of the speeches were of course focused on the acquisition of the Spartan, yet the speakers also underlined the excellent relationship between Italy and Slovenia in the Defence sector. Šarec and Gaube were delighted to finally welcome to Slovenia the aircraft that is symbolically starting a wave of modernization and major acquisitions for the SAF. Šarec also exposed the importance of a modern domestic defence industry and some new domestic prototypes were exposed on the apron (more about them later). The Minister underlined that the aircraft will also be used for civil protection purposes and, fitted with the MAFFS II system, for aerial firefighting.
Earlier this year the country already received two Air Tractor AT-802 Fire Boss with two more to be delivered in the next months and an option for an extra two aircraft.
The ceremony concluded with a ribbon cutting behind the aircraft ramp. The aircraft was then flown to Maribor, where it will be based during the next months while the runway at Cerklje ob Krki AB is renovated.
The Slovenian MoD signed the first Government-to-Government (G2G) Implementation Agreement for the order of the first Spartan with the Italian MoD on Nov. 17,2021, while the order for the second was signed on Sept. 19, 2023.
The cost of the first aircraft is 48.854.759,25 € (VAT excluded), the cost of the second, having the same configuration, is 45.408.679,04€ (VAT excluded) while the total cost of the purchase of the two C-27J tactical cargo aircraft, including all modules and logistic support, insurance, certification and management costs 128.911.575,43€ (VAT excluded).
The cost of the first two aircraft includes certification, MEDEVAC standard and special modules, biological decontamination modules, ballistic modules and a two-year warranty.
The further costs of the programme include a MAFFS II (Modular Airborne Fire-Fighting System) palletized fire-fighting system, a VIP transportation module, ground support equipment, integral logistics support, training, spare parts, additional transport material and the administrative costs of the Italian-Slovenian implementing agreement.
The G2G agreement does not include offset obligations.
Leonardo is already collaborating with the Slovenian based company SIJ Metal Ravne but their business relationship is not conditioned from the procurements of the Slovenian Army and the Police. The Italian company also told us that it is already discussing potential collaborations with other Slovenian companies.
The delivered aircraft is equipped with advanced avionics, a radar for tactical transport missions, communication systems, a satellite system, ballistic protection, and winglets that further increase its aerodynamic performance. Leonardo’s representatives told us that the aircraft includes hardware provisions for the chaff & flare countermeasure dispensers, but does not include the equipment itself and that it will be eventually provided upon client’s request. Thanks to its design, the aircraft can be upgraded at any stage introducing a full Defensive Aids System, which also includes chaff & flare equipment. The aircraft is not fitted with the aerial refueling probe.
The first Spartan (serial number NC 204) was named after Martin Krpan, a fictional character of the homonymous novel by the Slovenian writer Fran Levstik, first published in 1858. Krpan was a salt smuggler known for his extreme strength and who beheaded Brdavs, a giant and powerful warrior who already killed many Emperor’s knights, including his own son. The plane was first spotted in Slovenian colours and with the given name already in early January. The second Spartan (NC 207) is being assembled at the Torino-Caselle factory and should be delivered at the end of 2024.
Martin Krpan will be based at Maribor airport for the next months, where they are planning to set up a hangar tent. The building of a dedicated hangar in Cerklje ob Krki AB incurred various delays that will hopefully be solved in the near future.
The delivery of the first C-27J NG to the Slovenian Air Force took place just a couple of days after the Spartan achieved a major milestone hitting 250,000 flight hours in 16 countries and little more than a week after some media hype followed the news that a few countries had briefly halted their operations to carry out checks required by a Leonardo service bulletin.
Aviation and local industries
As we already mentioned above, the guests at the ceremony also had the opportunity to see some prototypes and new products made by Slovenian companies. Let’s take a quick look at them.
Carbotech Technologies, a spin-off company of Guardiaris, showcased the BANS (Battlefield Anti-aircraft Non-lethal VSHORAD System).
The system is shaped like a rifle and was first presented at Eurosatory in 2022. The BANS emulates the launch of a SAM missile to trigger the self protection system of the engaged aircraft to make it run out of flares, making the later real engagement with MANPADS much more effective. The system weight is 4,2 kg. It has a declared range of 5 km and could emulate up to 250 engagements with a single rechargeable battery.
C-Astral presented its latest development, the SQA eVTOL multirole system, a lightweight UAV (less than 10 kg) with a range of up to 40km and an endurance of up to 2,5 hours. The system can carry various payloads like the EYE-X EO/IR/LI HD8 Gimbal equipped with a high-resolution EO and IR sensor with an optional laser illuminator, capable of detecting, tracking, following and geo-locating targets, objects, features and infrastructure, day and night, making it suitable for military ISR and fire control missions. The company is aiming also to the civilian market, thus the SQA eVTOL could be fitted also with a LIDAR and advanced laser mass spectrometer for pipeline and environmental monitoring.
TIMTEC defense showcased the X905 Armed UAV/OPV (Optionally Piloted Vehicle), an experimental aircraft based on the Pipistrel Virus SW LSA. The plane is fitted with a gyro stabilized EO/IR multisensor gimbal device and four hardpoints, two under each wing, capable of carrying a payload of up to 60 km. The X905 will also be armed with air to ground missiles (they still have to choose of which type). The SAF plans to purchase a Squadron composed by 12 aircraft. The X905 has an operational range of 500 km and can carry a total payload of 250 kg, of which 150 kg on wings.
The MoD budget for 2024-2025 aims to invest 35 million € for R&D and the local companies are eager to provide new solutions to the SAF.
The modernization of the SAF: AW139M helicopters and IRIS/T
The Slovenian defense budget, still one of the lowest between NATO countries as a share of GDP, reached a record low of 0,9% or less than 500 million € in 2015. For more than one decade there were not enough funds to invest in new equipment. The lean years are finally over and the investments are steadily rising, together with the announcements of new acquisitions. The budget of the MoD will reach 1 billion € and, in 2025, 1,1 billion € or 1,31 and 1,36% of the GDP.
From a sales point of view, in the last few years Slovenia has to some extent become a Leonardo’s exclusive market. Everything started with the order for a single AW169 for the Slovenian Police signed in November 2018. The helicopter was delivered less than one year later, in October 2019. Furthermore, in July 2019, another order followed and the second AW169 was delivered in April 2022. Last year in November the third and last was ordered, the aircraft landed in its new home base at Ljubljana Airport just some weeks ago, on December 4, 2023.
The Ministry of Interior purchased the three AW169s for a total of approximately 43 million €, VAT included. The three helicopters replaced two older aircraft, an AB-212 that was retired after 42 years of service and is now on display at the Park of Military History in Pivka and an AB-412 that is still stored, its future fate is unknown. The Slovenian Police operate a fleet of seven aircraft, apart from the three AW169 already mentioned, one A109, one EC-135 P2+ and two AB-206.
In the end of November, the Slovenian MoD Marjan Šarec and his Italian counterpart Guido Crosetto signed an amendment to the Implementing Agreement between the Ministry of Defence of the Italian Republic and the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia on cooperation in the field of military aviation for the purchase of six multi-role AW139M helicopters for a total of approximately 188 million € (VAT excluded). The timeline of the deliveries will be defined later next year.
The six helicopters will replace the eight B-412s acquired in the 1990s which won’t be retired yet, as the MoD intends to use them for HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) and to support the Slovenian Mountain Rescue Association for SAR operations in the mountains. This decision was criticized by many, since Slovenia is one of the few European countries where the HEMS services are still provided only by military and police helicopters and those are also lacking the necessary up to date equipment fitted in the purpose made HEMS aircraft and, apart from that, are still not operating night HEMS.
The excellent cooperation with Italy that led to the purchase of the Spartan and the order for AW139M helicopters did not extend to air defence, as Slovenia is one of the founding countries of the European Sky Shield Initiative (ESSI). On Dec. 6, 2023 the State Secretary at the Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia Damir Črnčec and the German counterpart Benedikt Zimmer signed in Berlin a Programme Agreement between on the participation of the Republic of Slovenia in the procurement of IRIS-T SLM systems with a 40km range. The specifics of the agreement remain undisclosed, however the Slovenian newspaper Delo reported already in June that the deal for two systems, produced by Diehl Defence, should be worth 200 million €. Currently, the only SAM in use are Soviet/Russian made 9K338 Igla-s (SA-24 Grinch) MANPADS. The SAF also acquired a Roland II system from Germany in 2001, but it soon fell in disuse. The last missiles were dismantled in Croatia some years ago.
About Aljoša Jarc
Passionate about aviation from a lifetime, contributor of the Slovenian aviation website sierra5.net. Occasionally writer for blogbeforeflight.net, exyuaviation.com and other media.