BRATISLAVA (Reuters) - Slovakia approved on Wednesday plans to spend 1.2 billion euros ($1.33 billion) by 2029 to replace the army's outdated armored personnel carriers, in the biggest defense modernization project in the country's history.
Slovakia is stepping up defense spending and its military presence in NATO missions after calls by U.S. President Donald Trump on allies to recommit themselves to the alliance.
According to the document approved by the government, the army will buy 81 eight-wheeled defense armored vehicles and 404 multi-purpose four-wheeled armored vehicles. They will replace outdated models made in former Czechoslovakia and inherited by Slovakia when it split from the Czech Republic in 1993.
"The defense ministry will unveil plans on how to procure them by the end of the year and will try to use as much as possible the capacities of the Slovak defense industry," Defence Minister Peter Gajdos said.
Slovakia makes ammunition and turrets that can be used with any type of vehicle, defense expert Jaroslav Nad said.
In a separate document on Wednesday, the government pledged to send 152 soldiers to join Canadian-led forces in Latvia next year as part of a NATO deterrence mission in the Balics following Russia's annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
It also approved plans to send 47 soldiers to Iraq this year to train local soldiers and police officers under the NATO-sponsored war against the Islamic state militant group.
Slovakia, a NATO member since 2004, will inform its allies of all the measures at the alliance's summit on May 25.
They represent a U-turn for leftist Prime Minister Robert Fico, who withdrew Slovak soldiers from Iraq during his first term in 2006, and repeatedly criticized the requirement for NATO allies to spend 2 percent of gross domestic product on defense.
Lawmakers from the three ruling coalition parties as well as opposition factions backed on Tuesday a declaration in parliament that pledges to increase defense spending from 1.16 percent of GDP this year to 1.6 percent by 2020.
Slovakia has also been negotiating to lease fighter planes to replace its aging Russian-made MiG-29s.
(Reporting By Tatiana Jancarikova; Editing by Gareth Jones)