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BRATISLAVA, July 11 (Reuters) - Slovakia's government agreed it would purchase 14 U.S.-made F-16 fighter jets to replace its ageing Russian-made MiG-29s, the defence ministry said on Wednesday.
Slovakia picked the new F-16s made by Lockheed Martin over Swedish Gripen jets produced by Saab, calling them more modern and more advanced, according to an analysis published before the decision.
"We picked the best solution because they are modern machines, which from a price, quality and capability point of view that we can afford, have no competition," Defence Minister Peter Gajdos said in a statement.
Slovakia, a NATO military alliance member, has a maintenance contract with Russia for its 12 MiG-29s until autumn 2019.
The contract, worth 20 million to 50 million euros ($23.4 million-$58.5 million) a year, under which dozens of Russian technicians are based at a Slovak military air base, may have to be extended as the delivery of the first F-16s will take up to 36 months from the signing of the contract.
The ministry has not disclosed the purchase and maintenance costs of the jets. It last year earmarked about 1.1 billion euros ($1.29 billion) for the modernisation of its fleet.
Slovakia had been in talks with Gripen maker Saab for years, before Gajdos paused discussions and invited other bidders.
That sparked criticism from government coalition partners that delays in closing the deal would prolong Slovakia's dependence on Russia.
Among central European neighbours, Hungary and the Czech Republic operate Gripens. Poland flies a large fleet of 48 F-16s while also keeping around 30 MiG 29s. ($1 = 0.8546 euros) (Reporting by Tatiana Jancarikova, editing by Louise Heavens)