Croatia picks Rafale F3R fighter jet to modernize air force

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It’s official: the Prime Minister of Croatia Andrej Plenković announced that the government decided to buy 12 used French F3R Rafale fighter jets to modernize the country’s air force. The fourth-generation fighter jets will replace the antique MiG-21BisD/UMD fighters from the Soviet era currently in service.

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 was yet to be made, the local daily Jutarnji list had already reported that the choice fell on the French offer, citing sources close to the matter.

It was eventually confirmed by the Prime Minister in a hearing with the Croatian Parliament. “Because we are aware of how precious peace is, our Government fulfills the set priorities of defense and security policy,” Plenković commented. “The government considered the study and assessed that the offer of France is the best.”

The contract of €999 million includes 10 single-seater Rafale C and two twin-seater Rafale B fighter jets, as well as weapon systems, spare parts, logistics, a simulator, and training. 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. 

Like 12 of the 18 Dassault fighters that Greece decided to buy in January 2021, the Croatian Rafales will be taken directly from the inventory of the French Air Force. This allows for a faster and cheaper procurement.

Despite the previously set objective to raise the number of Rafale fighters, the backbone of the French Air Force, to 129 jets by 2025, from 102 currently, the French Ministry of Armed Forces will not place a new order with Dassault to replace the Croatian sale, la Tribune reported.


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