Croatia’s government has approved the purchase of 12 used Rafale fighter jets from France worth around 1 billion euros to replace its outdated fleet of Soviet-era aircraft and bolster its air force amid tensions in the Balkans.
The contract for the jets used is expected to be signed during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Croatia on Thursday. This will be the first visit by a French head of state to Croatia since it broke away from the former Yugoslav federation in the 1991–95 war.
The selection of the French aircraft, announced in May, followed a lengthy bidding process that was plagued with delays. Other proposals included new F-16s from the United States, new JAS-39 Gripen aircraft from Sweden and used F-16s from Israel.
Government officials said on Wednesday that the purchase of the aircraft would meet Croatia’s needs to protect its skies for the next 30 years and that the package would include missiles and a training process for Croatian pilots.
Officials said two Rafale flyovers are about to be built in the Croatian capital during Macron’s visit on Thursday.
Croatian officials previously said the purchase would be worth 999 million euros and would include 10 single-seater and two 2-seater F3R Rafale twin-engine aircraft. The first six Rafales are due to be delivered in 2024, with the rest due next year.
The French jets will replace some still operational Soviet-era MiG-21s – first developed in the 1950s – whose resources run out in 2024. Most of the MiGs were originally snatched from Yugoslav forces, who tried to prevent Croatia’s separation from the former Serbs. dominant federation.
NATO and EU member Croatia has faced a mini arms race with neighboring Russian ally Serbia, which recently received six used MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia and four more variants from Belarus. Huh.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who will hold talks with President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Thursday, said on Wednesday that a “big” announcement on additional military purchases by Serbia could be expected in March.
He did not elaborate, but for years there has been talk of Russia supplying Serbia with an S-400 surface-to-air missile system, bringing sophisticated rockets closer to the NATO-member border.