Rafale Fighter Jet Acquisition: A Major Leap Forward for the Croatian Air Force

by J. Kasper Oestergaard, European Correspondent, Forecast International.

The Rafale fighter jets will replace Croatia’s aging fleet of 8 active (12 total) Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 fighter jets. Photo Source: Dassault Aviation.

For years, Croatia has been in the process of modernizing its air force by replacing older Soviet-era aircraft with both new and secondhand aircraft. On May 28, the nation took a major leap forward by selecting the Dassault Rafale F3-R for its air force, following an international call for tenders as part of its Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) program. Croatia is acquiring 12 secondhand aircraft from the French Air Force in a deal worth EUR999 million (1.2 billion USD). France is to deliver the first six aircraft in 2024, with the remainder following in 2025. The deal includes 10 single-seat C models and 2 two-seat B models.

In addition to the aircraft, the deal 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 for each delivered aircraft, engines, other equipment, and spare parts.

The Croatian government launched the MRFA program on  July 4, 2019. The Rafale was up against the F-16 Block 70 (new-build), Saab Gripen (new-build), and used Israeli F-16C/D Block 30 aircraft. In 2018, Croatia’s Defense Ministry announced its intention to purchase the used Israeli F-16s; however, in early 2019, the government scrapped the decision and relaunched the tender.

According to statements made by Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, with the Rafale purchase, Croatia is gaining a powerful strategic deterrent for the next 30 to 40 years, which significantly strengthens the nation’s airspace protection and position within NATO and multiplies the overall combat capability of the Croatian armed forces. “With this move, Croatia will for the first time reach the level of spending of 2 percent of GDP for strengthening its defense capabilities, which is the goal of all NATO members,” Plenković said.

The Rafale will replace the Croatian Air Force’s aging fleet of 12 modernized MiG-21 fighters that were purchased from Ukraine in 2013. According to reports by multiple Croatian news sources, four of these jets were since found to be defective and unusable and were subsequently grounded for safety reasons. The operational life of Croatia’s current MiG-21 fleet expires in 2024.

Of the nations that made up Yugoslavia prior to the Yugoslav Wars, Slovenia, Croatia, and Montenegro have all become NATO members. Meanwhile, Bosnia and Herzegovina is aspiring to join the alliance. Kosovo has become an independent nation recognized by about 100 nations as of 2021, and it may become a NATO member itself one day. Serbia emerged from the Yugoslav Wars as the antagonist in the eyes of the West, and a NATO membership is at present regarded as highly unlikely. Today, only the air forces of Croatia and Serbia own and operate fighter jets. Serbia has received a number of secondhand MiG-29s from Russia and Belarus in recent years and operates the SOKO J-22 Orao, a Yugoslav twin-engine, subsonic ground-attack, and aerial reconnaissance aircraft.

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Based in Denmark, Joakim Kasper Oestergaard is Forecast International’s AeroWeb Webmaster and European Editor.  In 2008, he came up with the idea for what would eventually evolve into AeroWeb.  Mr. Oestergaard is an expert in aerospace & defense market intelligence, fuel efficiency in civil aviation, defense spending and defense programs.  He has an affiliation with Terma Aerostructures A/S in Denmark – a leading manufacturer of composite and metal aerostructures for the F-35 Lightning II.  Mr. Oestergaard has a Master’s Degree in Finance and International Business from the Aarhus School of Business – Aarhus University in Denmark.

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