Croatia Kicks Off a New Round of Fighter Procurement

 - July 3, 2019, 11:06 AM
Two Croatian MiG-21bis fighters exercise with a VF-103 "Jolly Rogers" F-14B Tomcat during the early 2000s. Although the elderly MiGs have been made NATO-compatible, they are sorely in need of replacement. (photo: U.S. Navy)

After its unsuccessful attempt to acquire second-hand Israeli F-16s, the Croatian Council for Defense decided to launch a new procurement round at the end of June. It has confirmed the need to preserve the capabilities of airspace protection with the country’s own multi-purpose combat aircraft.

The Council “proposed the establishment of an Inter-Ministerial Committee with the aim of implementing all activities related to the acquisition of a multi-purpose combat aircraft,” said a statement issued by the President’s Office on June 28. According to media information, the Committee will send an RFI (Request for Information) to Lockheed Martin and Saab for the F-16 Fighting Falcon and the JAS 39 Gripen. Jutarnji List, a Croatian daily, reported without referring to a government source that second-hand Mirage 2000s from Brazil—offered by a Croatian middleman—are not considered to be a principal contender.

Croatia currently has only relatively limited airspace control capability with a squadron of obsolete MiG-21 fighters that have been partly refurbished and upgraded to basic NATO standard. The country has been trying for more than a decade to replace the MiG-21s as they run out of service life, but so far all attempts to do so have failed, mainly due to lack of funding.

This is one of the reasons for Zagreb strengthening defense and airspace protection cooperation with neighboring Hungary. Hungarian Minister of Defence, Tibor Benkő, and Croatian Defence Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, Damir Krstičević, signed a joint airspace policing agreement and a memorandum of understanding on the establishment of a multinational command on April 8 in Budapest.

Both countries are signatories of a Memorandum of Understanding to create a Multinational Special Aviation Program. Under the agreement, a new training center will be established in Zadar, Croatia, dedicated exclusively to training air crews who will conduct the insertion and extraction of Special Operations Forces. The new aviation training center is expected to open its doors by the end of 2019 and will contribute to NATO’s adaptability and readiness.

Meanwhile, the delivery to Croatia of Orbiter-3, a light tactical UAV produced by the Israeli company Aeronautics, lags behind schedule, several Croatian media outlets have reported. Orbiter-3 is planned for use by the ministry of defense and the ministry of agriculture to detect bushfires, as well as for border control and other tasks.