Croatia to Buy Used French Rafale Jets

Croatia will purchase 12 Rafale F3-R multirole fighters, formerly in French service for the price of 999 million Euro. This purchase is part of a government to government agreement with France.

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Coinciding with its Armed Forces day on 28 May 2021, the Croatian Government adopted a decision on the procurement of a new multi-role fighter. Croatia purchases the planes as part of a government to government agreement with France. The 999 million Euro deal is Croatia’s biggest arms purchase since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. The Croatian government said in a  tweet on its officia account: “We expect all 12 aircraft in Croatia by 2024. Payment will start next year and will be made in instalments and will be completed by the end of 2025.”

“By procuring fighter jets, Croatia is gaining a powerful strategic deterrent for the next 30 to 40 years, which significantly strengthens its international position and its airspace protection and multiplies the overall combat capability of the Croatian Army. The purchase of a multi-role fighter aircraft will strengthen Croatia’s position as an ally within NATO and a partner within the European Union. With this move, Croatia will for the first time reach the level of spending of 2% of GDP for strengthening its defence capabilities, which is the goal of all NATO members”, said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

The Croatian government launched the process of procuring a multi-role fighter aircraft on 4 July 2019, to replace its MiG-21 “Fishbed. Offers were sent by the United States, for newly-build F-16 C/D Block 70, Sweden for newly-build Gripen C/D, France for the used Rafale F3-R and Israel for the used F-16 C/D Block 30. An Inter-Agency Commission evaluated the received offers and adopted a feasibility study for the procurement of a multi-role fighter aircraft, which was submitted to the government.

The Rafale, along with the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Saab Gripen, is one of three fighter aircraft produced in Europe and has been in service with the French military ever since 2004.  Since then, the plane has gone through three upgrade packages, with Dassault currently working on a fourth, called F4. The planes that Croatia has purchased, of the F3-R standard, feature Thales’ TALIOS 64 laser designation pod, capable of dropping the GBU-24 Paveway III laser-guided bombs, the Meteor 66 air-to-air missile as well as the Automatic Ground Collision Avoidance System (AGCAS). 

The Rafale has enjoyed export success on the international market. While France currently operates a total of 143, with another 136 ordered, Egypt was delivered its first Rafales in late 2017, currently operates 21 and awaits an order of three more aircraft. Since last year, the Indian Air Force operates one aircraft, with 35 more ordered, while Qatar operates 15 with another 57 ordered.  The aircraft is also a contender in evaluations in Finland, Malaysia and Switzerland, while Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates have announced purchases but not yet finalised these. Ukraine, Spain and possibly Iraq have also expressed interest. Dassault has also seen some setbacks however, notably in Brazil against Saab’s Gripen and Belgium and Canada against Lockheed Martin’s F-35.

In addition to the aircraft, the French offer also includes a flight simulator, basic weapons package, ground and test equipment, spare parts, staff training according to the principle of “training of trainers”, comprehensive support from authorized representatives of manufacturers for a period of three years and a warranty of 12 months per each delivered aircraft, engine, other equipment and spare parts.

The French Rafales will replace the Croatian MiG-21bis-D and Mig-21UMD (a two-seater variant) as the countries multi-role fighter aircraft. Croatia’s fleet of MiGs had been expanded by the purchase of Ukrainian machines in 2014 and upgraded to the bis-D and UMD variant for interoperability with NATO. These machines are reaching the end of their operational lifetime in 2024 however, and it has been reported that a mere four of them are operational at any given time.

Croatia had been looking for a replacement for its ailing fleet of MiGs since 2015. After a restart of the program due to a newly elected government in 2016, the program was set back in 2019, after it had to cancel a deal for 12 second-hand Israeli F-16C/D Baraks worth $500 million. The US government, which retains some rights on the export of the plane because of technology used onboard as part of the Third Party Transfer (TPT) guidelines, did not clear the deal with Israel before the timeline set by Croatia ran out.

By Kevin Klemann

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