The Croatian government has approved the purchase of 12 second-hand Rafale fighter jets from France, worth about 1 billion euros, to replace its aging Soviet-era aircraft fleet and to strengthen its air force amid ongoing tensions in the Balkans
The contract for the second-hand aircraft is expected to be signed during French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Croatia on Thursday. This will be the first visit to Croatia by the French head of state since it seceded from the former Yugoslavia in the 1991-95 war.
The selection of the French aircraft was announced in May, after a long bidding process, but has been plagued by delays. Other offers include a new F-16 from the United States, a new JAS-39 Gripen from Sweden and a second-hand F-16 from Israel.
Government officials said on Wednesday that the purchase of the aircraft will meet Croatia’s needs for protecting its skies in the next 30 years, and the package will include the training process for missiles and Croatian pilots.
Officials said the two Rafale fighter jets were planned to fly over the Croatian capital from the Croatian capital during Macron’s visit on Thursday.
Croatian officials said earlier that the purchase is worth 999 million euros and will involve 10 single-seater and two 2-seater F3R Rafale twin-engine aircraft. The first six Rafale fighters are scheduled to be delivered in 2024, and the rest will be delivered the following year.
French jets will replace some of the Soviet-era MiG-21s still in use — originally developed in the 1950s — whose resources will expire in 2024. The leading federation.
NATO and EU member Croatia are facing a small arms race with neighboring Russian ally Serbia. Serbia has recently received six second-hand MiG-29 fighters from Russia and four other such fighters from Belarus.
Serbian President Alexander Vucic will hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Russia on Thursday. He said on Wednesday that Serbia may announce a “major” announcement to increase arms purchases in March.
He did not elaborate, but has been talking about Russia’s supply of S-400 surface-to-air missile systems to Serbia for many years, bringing advanced rockets closer to NATO members.