Croatia signed an agreement on Thursday to purchase 12 French Rafale fighter jets worth nearly one billion euros ($ 1.2 billion) which officials say will significantly bolster its military. air amid the lingering tensions in the Balkans.
The contract for the used fighter plane was signed during the visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Croatia. It was the first visit of the French Head of State to Croatia since his separation from the former Yugoslav federation during the 1991-95 war.
“The strategic purchase of the planes is what we see as a change for Croatia,” Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic said at a joint press conference with Macron after the signing ceremony.
“This will not only give us the ability to avoid those who have aspirations towards our territory, but also to become the so-called exporters of security … of stability in south-eastern Europe,” he said. declared.
Macron said the aircraft deal would strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries and help European defense.
Two Rafales made a low pass over the Croatian capital after the signing ceremony.
The selection of the French plane, announced in May, follows a long tender process that has experienced delays. Other offerings included new F-16s from the United States, new JAS-39 Gripen aircraft from Sweden, and used F-16s from Israel.
Eric Trappier, CEO of Dassault Aviation, which manufactures Rafale jets, said that they “will give full satisfaction to the Croatian Air Force, while actively contributing to the exercise of Croatia’s national sovereignty”.
Croatian officials said earlier that the purchase is worth 999 million euros and will be for 10 single-seaters and two twin-engine F3R Rafale two-seaters. The first six Rafale should be delivered in 2024, the rest to be delivered the following year.
French jets will replace a few still operational Soviet-era MiG-21s, first developed in the 1950s. Most MiGs were originally wrested from the Yugoslav army, which attempted to stop secession. from Croatia of the former federation dominated by Serbs.
Croatia, which is a member of NATO and the European Union, is in a mini arms race with neighboring Russian ally Serbia, which recently received six used MiG-29 fighter jets from Russia. and four others of the Belarusian type.