A member of NATO since 2009, Croatia has one of the smallest air forces in Europe. The country operates only a squadron of MiG-21 fighters inherited from Yugoslavia. For more than a decade, however, the air force has tried to replace them with more modern planes.
One of the manufacturers that offered to supply this need is Saab. The Swedish airframer made the first proposal in 2012, taking advantage of the agreements signed with two other countries of the old Iron Curtain, Hungary and the Czech Republic, which replaced their MiG-21s with the Gripen fighter.
Again, the Swedes made a similar proposal in 2015, for 12 Gripen C/D fighters, but Croatia ended up evolving talks with Israel for the purchase of used F-16 fighters. However, the deal ended up frustrated by US restrictions.
In January of this year, Croatia again launched the bid for the acquisition of 12 aircraft for seven countries: USA and Sweden, for the purchase of new fighters, and France, Italy, Norway, Greece and Israel for used units.
On Wednesday, the Swedish government and Saab submitted their proposal for 12 Gripen C/D fighters, the original variant of the supersonic jet. The manufacturer also offers a strategic cooperation package to develop the country’s defense industry, something similar to what was done with Brazil, which bought 36 Gripen E/F fighters, the advanced version of the model.
“Sweden and Saab are offering a comprehensive and long-term solution for Croatian homeland security that will protect Croatia’s people and borders for decades to come. If Croatia chooses Gripen, Saab is ready to transfer know-how and technology and establish a Regional Aeronautical & Support Service Center in Croatia. This would develop long term cooperation with local defense industry as well as the academic sector, generating some 500 high-tech jobs,” says Jonas Hjelm, Senior Vice President and head of Saab business area Aeronautics.
The MiG-21 replacement program, which would have a useful life until 2024, was expected to analyze the proposals in September, but is delayed.