While Croatia is still officially deciding which one of two contendents will replace its aging fighter fleet, local media reports that the winner was already chosen.
In January 2020, Croatia sent a request for bids seeking to buy a squadron of new or used fighter jets in an effort to modernize its air force. The country has been attempting to replace its antique MiG-21BisD/UMD fighters from the Soviet era. A first attempt to acquire 12 used F-16 fighter jets from Israel fell through after the latter did not receive approval from the United States for the sale.
In December 2020, after receiving four offers, namely, from Saab for its JAS-39 Gripen, Israel again for its F-16 Block 30, Lockheed-Martin for the F-16 Viper, and France for second-hand Rafale F3R jets, an inter-agency commission decided that the choice should be made between the last two.
On May 20, 2021, Croatian President Zoran Milanović held a defense counsel with his Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, as well as the Ministers of Defense, Finance, and Foreign Affairs to discuss among other things the modernization of the Croatian air force.
While the official announcement will be made on May 28, 2021, the local press already reports that the choice fell on the French offer. The Croatian government has decided to buy 12 used French F3R Rafale fighter jets, according to the daily Jutarnji list, citing sources close to the matter.
The contract, estimated at €930 million includes the training of pilots and technicians, but not the armament. The first six Rafale F3Rs will be delivered to Croatia in 2024, with the last six due the following year.
The new F3R Standard, which reached full operational capability on March 17, 2021, comprises several upgrades, that include the RBE2 AESA radar system, the METEOR long-range air-to-air missile, the TALIOS designation pod, and an update of the SPECTRA electronic warfare suite.
On May 21, 2021, the Direction générale de l’armement (DGA), the French procurement agency, announced the beginning of the flight test campaign for the F4 standard, which aims at “bringing the Rafale into the era of collaborative air combat.”
It is likely now that France will order another batch of 12 Rafale fighters from Dassault Aviation in order to offset the deduction from the French Air Force fleet. The objective of France’s Ministry of Armed Forces is to raise the number of Rafales, the backbone of the force, to 129 jets by 2025, from 102 according to the latest report.
Rumors proved true as the Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković confirmed that the government decided to buy 12 used French F3R Rafale fighter jets to modernize the country’s air force on May 28, 2021