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Croatia - Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA)

The Croatian Air Force had a requirement to purchase between six and 12 [some sources say possibly as many as 18 aircraft] new Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA - višenamjenskog borbenog aviona). The current fleet of MiGs 21 can fly up to 2023, and a part of them is already grounded due to controversial overhaul in Ukraine. The abilities of combat aviation could require between 10 and 12 one-seater, that is, one squadron and a maximum of four two-seater for training.

The US government argued consistently that Croatia could rely on NATO partners for Air Policing and would be much wiser to invest in rotary wing and medium lift capabilities. The Croatians, however, remained steadfast in their commitment to procure fighters. While at one time some may have thought this procurement was driven only by senior air force officers looking to keep fast movers in their inventory, it is clear that the decision to procure fighters has been made at the top levels of the government and was irreversible. Minister of Defense Berislav Roncevic stated that Croatia cannot be talked out of fighter jets. Memories of the air raids the early 1990s are too fresh in Croatian minds, making this an emotional argument that defies fiscal logic. Roncevic said "My son will never have to use a bomb shelter."

The new aircraft were expected to be sourced from either European or American suppliers. Zagreb initially explored a number of options regarding how these aircraft could be purchased. One possibility was a bilateral procurement with Slovenia which could see the aircraft organised into a joint Slovene-Croatian air defence and ground attack unit. Alternatively, Croatia had suggested the possibility of a four-way MRCA procurement in concert with Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey although this suggestion never translated into a formal four-nation acquisition. Other options for Croatia included the acquisition of used combat aircraft to provide a temporary measure so as to delay the acquisition of a new MRCA until the economy improves. Alternatively, Zagreb could opt to do nothing until the country’s economic situation was more stable, and request that other NATO members provide Air Policing protection its airspace until it completes an acquisition.

Immediately following the parliamentary elections in November 2007 and the forming of a new Croatian Government, the new defence minister faced what would be so far the most complex and most expensive project in equipping the Croatian Armed Forces, three times more expensive than the procurement of armored battle vehicles. In question was the purchase of as many as 12 multi-purpose fighter planes for the needs of the Croatian Air Force, worth some US$800 million.

The MoD's Long Term Development Plan called for Croatia to replace its 12 soon-to-be post-lifecycle MiG-21 aircraft with a similar number of advanced fighters for domestic air policing. Croatia sent requests for information for Mirage, MiG-29, Eurofighter, Gripen, and F-16 (Block 15 used, Block 15 mid-life upgrade, and Block 50/52 new). By late 2008 Croatia had all the answers it requested and is conducting further internal studies. At that time the competition had narrowed to the Swedish multi-purpose JAS-39 Gripen, and the American F-16 Block 52. The latest F-16 Block 60 had shown itself to be overly expensive (US$85 million). The French Dassault Mirrage 2000 was to be replaced by the Rafale, so the French aircraft was never seriously considered as a Croatian option.

On 11 October 2012 a delegation of the Swedish Defence and Security Export Agency (FXM) delivered to the Croatian government an offer for Swedish combat aircraft Gripen to replace the Croatian Air Force's MiG-21 planes. The director of FXM's program for Croatia, Jerry Lindbergh, told a news conference that the Swedish government had submitted an offer for eight Gripen planes, technical support, a pilot training plan, and financing possibilities - a ten-year loan for the aircraft. If the Croatian government accepted the offer, the first Croatian Gripen would take off in January 2014, a year after the contract signing.

On 26 October 2015 Sweden offered Croatia 8 to 12 new Gripen combat jet. On 23 October 2015 this Swedish government agency responded to the Croatian ministry's request for information on military aircraft to be sold to the Croatian Air Force, offering the Gripen jets, manufactured by SAAB. Sweden has had a constructive dialogue with Croatia since 2007 and considers Croatia a valuable future partner in the region where Gripen jets are already in use by some countries. Croatia was looking at other options, and made inquiries with Sweden about buying Gripens, perhaps starting in 2019.

The most important document that is the basis for deciding on the fate of aviation aviation is the ' Study on the Development of Ability to Protect the Airspace of the Republic of Croatia by Multipurpose Fighting Aircraft '. This document was issued in 2015 and explicitly stated that in accordance with the Long-Term Development Plan of the OSRH from 2015 to 2024, it is necessary to determine the ability to retain combat aviation abilities, including multinational access to its maintenance. Based on this decision, a professional committee has been established and the study itself has been drafted. In short, this eliminated the possibility of making new analyzes and was ready to negotiate and solve the most critical problem of the armed forces.

The first move was sending the so-called. RFI (Request for Information), or the Request for Information requested by the Government of the Republic of Croatia for more detailed information on specific products of individual producers that are not available to the public. This was the first step in the procurement of commercial aircraft acquisition, which was confirmed by the MORH, adding that it was sent to addresses of several companies and embassies of countries of the aircraft manufacturing companies. The defense ministry emphasized that this was not about the procurement process, but about gathering the information for the analysis needed to produce an expert study of the possibilities of anti-aircraft defense, followed by a detailed analysis of the information provided and decision on further procurement procedures.

The second step in the process of acquiring new aircraft was to collect specific bids that are called Request For Quotation (RFQ) or RFP (Request for Proposal). This procedure was followed for the interested buyers and represented the second step in the negotiations, with the RFQ implying a firmer attitude and determination of the potential buyer, who submits to the seller an analysis of their needs, requirements, deadlines and sales conditions, and proposes a final draft of the contract. The RFP is, more specifically, a manufacturer seeking a specific offer, followed by further detailed procurement negotiations. It should be noted that the buyer refers the so-called. RFP in case of longer-term partnership relationship, while so-called. The RFQ sends when the vendor offers standard equipment without the need of a customer, with a specific price list.

The President of the Republic and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces of Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic commented 15 March 2017 that the Croatian MiGs were in poor condition by saying that they had received a report from the Chief of Staff and that what he had seen was rather worrying. Jutarnji list announced that the technical status of the MiG-21 combat aircraft was dramatic. Of the total of 12 combat aircraft, only four single seat and three two-seater are capable of performing the task, he writes this list referring to the report of Chief of General Staff Mirko Šundov, allegedly sent to the President of the Republic and the Supreme Commander.

The Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Croatia delivered a request for Proposal (RfP) on 2 July 2017 for a multipurpose combat aircraft in five countries; Greece (F-16), Israel (F-16), South Korea (FA-50), Sweden (Gripen JAS-39) and the United States (F-16) According to the Ministry of Defense, the request were delivered through the embassies of the said states, and the deadline for replying to the offer was 75 days. Upon receipt of bids, in a few months, the submitted bids will be analyzed in detail, and the key parameters in the selection, apart from the characteristics and capabilities of the aircraft, will be three segments; intergovernmental agreement , price and package of business-economic cooperation.

In the Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Croatia, on Tuesday, October 3, 2017, the bids for the purchase of multi-purpose combat aircraft were opened. The offers were presented by representatives of the Hellenic Republic, the State of Israel, the Kingdom of Sweden and the United States, in alphabetical order, in the same timeframe for each of them.

The opening ceremony was attended by representatives of the Ministry of Defense and the Armed Forces of the Republic of Croatia, the Office of the President of the Republic of Croatia, the Government of the Republic of Croatia, the State Attorney's Office of the Republic of Croatia and members of the Expert Team for Implementation of Preparatory Actions on the Procurement of Multifunctional Fighting Aircraft.

After opening the bids received, a detailed process of evaluation and validation of the bids submitted by the Expert Team began, within about two months. The key parameters in the selection, apart from the characteristics and capabilities of the aircraft, will be three segments: intergovernmental contract, pricing, and a package of business and economic co-operation. The process will be conducted transparently, each segment will be systematically examined to make the ultimate best choice for the Republic of Croatia.

The procurement of Israeli versions of the F-16 ACE is an improved aircraft with enhanced radar and missile sighters embedded in the pilot's vision. The increased operational performance and increased reliability and sustainability of the aircraft would meet the operational needs of Croatian aviation as it is also the versions that with its improvements make this third-generation fighter a combat aircraft that can be considered a machine competing with fighters of the fourth generation.

The Swedish bidder noted that Gripen can meet all current requirements of the OSRH, while at the same time preparing for future challenges. But Gripen's price is high and amounts to 60m euros per appliance, but the price of flying and preparation costs is $4,700, which is considerably lower than the hour of flight and preparation of competitors. For example, the flight time of F-16 is $7,000 per hour, so with a simple calculation, given that pilots fly about 50 hours a year, which is three times lower than the NATO standard, the cost of a single Croatian fighter pilot would be $235,000 a year, while the annual cost for one F-16 would be $350,000.

Croatia tentatively agreed to buy 12 Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets at a cost of some 400 million Euros as part of its effort to revamp its air force. But in a marathon five-hour meeting held at the Ministry of Defense 10 January 2019, Israeli officials explained to their Croatian counterparts that Israel could not deliver the F-16 fighter jets Croatia had agreed to buy. The deal was blocked by the United States, which had not given Israel approval to sell the aircraft it had received from the United States. Washington cited subsequent modifications as the reason it had blocked the sale. Croatia was insisting on receiving the aircraft as agreed to in the contract of sale, modifications included.

Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic announced the news after their meeting. "After our meeting, I can inform you that Israel has formally informed the Defense Ministry, that contrary to the obligations it assumed, unfortunately, it cannot get the required approval from the United States to deliver the Israeli F-16 Barrack fighter jets to Croatia. Given the situation, the Defense Ministry will propose to the government that it adopt the appropriate decisions. The contract of sale between Croatia and Israel was not been signed so absolutely no financial damage has been done to Croatia."

Croatia threatened to axe the arms deal if it doesn't get the planes with the sophisticated electronic and radar systems installed by the Israelis after they took ownership of the jets some 30 years ago.

Croatia will purchase upgraded Israeli F-16 fighter aircraft, AP reported 28 March 2018. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced this deal in March after a meeting with the Croatian Prime Minister. Once formally approved by the government, it will be Croatia’s largest single military deal since it split from Serb-led Yugoslavia in the 1991-95 war. Croatia’s Defense Council accepted an Israeli offer that will replace the country’s aging MiG-21 fighters, of which only six were believed to be operational. Reports said the deal involved 12 used F-16 aircraft worth some $500 million that have been heavily modified with Israeli-made avionics. NATO member Croatia faces “an arms race” with Serbia, which recently received six used Russian MiG-29 fighter jets and will be reportedly armed with dozens of tanks, armored vehicles, helicopters and transport planes.

Croatia solicited offers for fighter jets from South Korea, Greece, Sweden and the US as well. In March 2018, the Croatian government announced its agreement with Israel to purchase a batch of F-16s for some $485 million. The US was competing with Israel for the same contract, and American officials accused their Israeli counterparts of dishonesty and capturing profits from the F-16 sale.

But by November 2018 the US was holding up the deal, according to Channel 10 News reported Barak Ravid. "The Trump government is blocking the sale of the 12 old F-16s to the Croatian army," senior Israeli officials told me," Ravid wrote. In mid-November 2018 messages were received in Israel that the Americans were blocking the deal and not allowing Israel to sell the planes Israel had originally purchased from them to Croatia. According to the senior officials, the Americans were angry that in order to defeat the US in the Croatian army tender, Israel added to the old American planes advanced electronic systems manufactured by Israel to persuade the Croats to buy from it. The Americans claimed that Israel acted unfairly and that it made a profit "on the back of the US". The Americans explained this by saying that American planes were not supposed to be sold to a third party without American approval, let alone in competition with the US.

Croatian officials said the deal has the green light, while US officials say that’s not the case. "The US government has given permission to the State of Israel to offer the Israeli F-16 to Croatia, and we have a document to that effect," Croatian Defense Minister Damir Krsticevic said 07 December 2018, according to Total Croatia News.

"In its bid, Israel undertook to deliver to Croatia aircraft that is compatible with NATO and obliged itself to ensure the extension of the planes' service life complies with the original manufacturer's criteria. Delivery, too, is the responsibility of the State of Israel. Based on those documents and the tender, we made the decision on the purchase of the multipurpose fighter fights, and the process was legal and transparent," the defense minister said.

One of the sticking points is that when US-based Lockheed Martin initially produced the aircraft and Israel acquired them, Washington and Israel had an agreement which said Washington would have to approve any relinquishment of the aircraft to a third party. "The Israelis need to accept the technical requirements, and as soon as that's done, we can move forward and the sale can go through," US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst said 08 December 2018.

The technical requirement question can only be reconciled once Israel strips advanced electronic systems from the aircraft, which were special weapons systems designed for Israel added on after the US had already produced the F-16s. "The United States has consistently said what the technical requirements are for more than two years, and everyone should have known that these are the technical requirements, and so it's a bit of a surprise to me that there is this slowdown right now," Kohorst said 08 December 2018 in Zagreb.

According to the US diplomat, the debate centered on "who will pay for the conversion, because the US and its contractors Lockheed Martin have to do the work because they're the ones who own the technology and intellectual property… I'm not involved in the negotiations, and I don't think they [Israel and Croatia] have a choice, because this is intellectual property of Lockheed Martin, and they need to get [Lockheed Martin's] approval to do the transfer," the ambassador told reporters, as quoted by Total Croatia.

The director-general of the Defense Ministry, Udi Adam, apologized to Croatia on 10 January 2019 for the collapse of a $500 million deal to sell aging Israeli F-16 Barak fighter jets, after Washington nixed the deal. “The Defense Ministry places great importance on deepening the cooperation between Israel and Croatia. To that end, we initiated the F-16 [sale], which included Israeli knowhow and technology,” Adam was quoted as saying during meetings Thursday in Zagreb, the Croatian capital. Adam called both countries’ conduct “professional and considered,” and said the “conditions, unfortunately, did not allow us to realize the deal because of unforeseeable problems that were beyond the control of either government.”

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Page last modified: 06-12-2021 10:06:04 ZULU