Useful Notes: Slovaks with Sappers
The modern military of the Slovak Republic, a.k.a. Slovakia, was founded in 1993, after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia. It started operating as a NATO force in 2004, when the country became a member of the alliance. Its official name is Ozbrojené sily Slovenskej republiky ("The Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic"). Until little over a decade ago, the armed forces were separated into three distinct, semi-autonomous branches : The Army (Armáda) itself, the Army of the Ministry of Interior (Vojsko Ministerstva vnútra) and the so-called Railway Army (Železničné vojsko). The latter two branches were integrated into the Army in 2002, creating the current version of the armed forces (including the change to its newer, currently used name). Since Slovakia is a former Warsaw Pact country, its vehicles and equipment are of mostly Czechoslovak and Soviet design. Most of this stuff is upgraded nowadays and many of the not-relevant-since-the-Cold War-ended vehicles have been gradually phased out since the 1990s. The army is also fully professional these days, with the compulsory military service for men having been abolished on the 1st of January 2006 (though there's still a law for conscription in emergency cases, i. e. the country getting under full-blown attack). As the page title suggests, the country's big and most renowned specialty is sapper work of all kinds, including landmine disarming, bomb disposal and preventing biological and chemical warfare attacks (or cleaning up after them). Among the equipment used by the sapper units are several domestically designed and produced remote-controlled mine clearance vehicles. The backbone of the army are the Ground Forces (Pozemné sily), followed by the Air Force (Vzdušné sily) and then by various training and support branches. The air force these days is rather small, particularly when compared with the Czech and Polish one, and recently there's been much talk about its modernization (particularly the purchase of new transport planes and the upkeep of the country's MiG 29s). The disbanding of the domestic air flight academy a few years ago (in order to supposedly save on the defence budget expenses) remains controversial to this day. Since Slovakia is as landlocked a country as it gets in central Europe and has few major navigable bodies of water, there is no navy to speak of (occasional river patrolling is reserved for coppers). To get a good idea about the current structure of the armed forces, you can visit this nifty overview◊ or this detailed article on That Other Wiki.
Tropes about the Slovak armed forces :
- Awesome Personnel Carrier : The various BMP-1 and BMP-2 variants and some Czechoslovak-built AP Cs, like the wheeled OT-64. A recent domestic design is the TATRAPAN armored utility truck. It can be used as a small APC, a gun truck, a logistics center or field lab and as an ambulance.
- Awesome Yet Practical : The remote-controlled mine clearance vehicles developed for the sapper units and overseas sales. In terms of construction, they're usually based on the mine flail principle, or a combination of mine roller and mine flail.
- Badass Bookworm / Genius Bruiser : The sapper units, full stop. Hey, fighting at the frontline might be the usual idea of "war", but at the end of the day, someone's got to clean up all those nasty mines or other threats left behind by extensive fighting. Not to mention aiding reconstruction efforts in war-torn areas...
- Cool Car : The Alligator armored car, a domestic design. Good as a multi-purpose scouting vehicle. Bullet-proof, partly amphibious and can be modified with various types of turrets and other additional kit. Early versions of the vehicle had less reliable engines, so it received quite a few revisions before it went into its full production run.
- Cool Plane : An exact dozen of upgraded MiG 29s (10 "A"s and 2 "UB"s) form the country's main fighter wing and are to remain in service until the 2020s at the latest. Their future replacements will probably be Swedish SAAB JAS 39 Gripens (which are already being used by Czechs and, to an extent, Hungarians). As for jet trainers, the role is filled with the old but reliable Aero L-39 Albatros (variants CM and ZAM). This is unsurprising, given how it originates from right next door. Sukhoi Su-25s were in service until the late 90s and Su-22s were decomissioned in the early 2000s. Some of the Su-25 Frogfoots were sold to Armenia (you can find a few photos taken shortly after their delivery, where they still have the Slovak coat of arms as their roundel).
- The Mi-24 attack helicopters◊ are the chopper variety of the trope. Sadly, they were phased out by the beginning of 2012, since their upkeep and modernization was already expensive and there were few of them left anyway. There are plans for a greater budgetary push towards the more useful Boring but Practical Mi-17s and transport planes (including the purchase of Alenia C-27J Spartans to replace the two Antonov An-26 Curls). Some of the older planes in the LET L-410 Turbolet light transport fleet had been replaced with new ones in the autumn of 2012. (The exchange didn't go completely smoothly : Some of its circumstances were criticized, i.e. that the purchase seemed to be artificially overpriced.)
- Elites Are More Glamorous : The 5th Special Forces Regiment, a spec ops / counter-terrorist paratrooper unit.
- The Engineer : As already mentioned, the country's hat in the context of NATO is expert sapper work. Thankfully, it doesn't go to the point of Crippling Overspecialization.
- I Call It "Vera" : A lot of the home-produced or modified vehicles have female names, i. e. the self-propelled◊ howitzer◊ ZUZANA ("Susan") and the remote-controlled mine clearance vehicle Božena. The ZUZANA is an evolution of the older Czechoslovak wheeled SPO DANA (whose name itself displays Fun with Acronyms properties, since in Czech it means Dělo Automobilní Nabíjené Automaticky ("Automobile Artillery, Reloaded Automatically"). A later experimental version of ZUZANA, called HIMALAYA◊, can be best described as a Military Mashup Machine : It keeps the turret, but is mounted on a modified T-72 chassis.
- Internet Backdraft : Virtually any debate about the future of the Air Force.
- Long Runners : Due to their durability and time-tested qualities, the old Praga V3S army trucks are still being used as light transports in both the Slovak and Czech army. Here's the kicker : They've been designed (and many of them built) way back in the 1950s-1960s. Their manufacturer itself, Praga, has been defunct for decades. They're◊ the Ugly Cute of army trucks. Oh, and if you've ever played Operation Flashpoint or ARMA II, you've probably noticed these being used by the La Résistance in the game. Despite good maintenance, the V 3 Ss are starting to show their age and are going to be gradually replaced by the domestically produced AKTIS MW 11 light truck.
- Military Academy : Just outside the town of Liptovský Mikuláš. The air force had a separate training academy in Košice until the early 2000s, but it was disbanded and integrated into the aviation faculty of the Košice University of Technology.
- Slovaks With Rusting Army Tech : Actually averted quite well by the Ground Forces. Zig-zagged in the case of the Air Force, which has the added trouble of having to convert itself from a heavily armed Cold War era frontline force to a smaller and more managable body, focused more on ground forces support and some basic air superiority.
- Surveillance Drone : The army bought 5 light, hand-launched Israeli Elbit Skylark UAVs a few years ago.
- Tank Goodness : The classic T-72 is the country's main battle tank. They're kind of a mix : Some are of Soviet manufacture, but a few of them belong to an original (and rare) domestic Czechoslovak variant, dubbed "Moderna". In recent years, Slovak tanks have been gradually phased out due to their increasing age and overall expense, in accord with the current efforts of modernizing the armed forces and rationalizing the defense budget. The last 30 T-72s are set to retire in early 2012. The saved money is going to be poured into the other mechanized branches and new acquisitions for the Ground Forces.
- Technical Pacifist : Since the military is small, its role is defensive and it focuses mainly on domestic and foreign disaster relief and NATO and UN peacekeeping missions abroad (most notably in Kosovo, Cyprus, Iraq and Afghanistan).
- Weaponized Car : A quasi-version of this trope in the form of the BRAMS Anti-Air vehicle and the aforementioned ZUZANA SPA and TATRAPAN, which are all built on a modified chasis of a heavy-duty 8x8 Tatra 815 truck (itself the standard heavy transport of the army).