Croatia gets French Rafale multirole fighters to replace veteran MiG-21s
As it stands, the main regional antagonist of the Croatian Air Force is Serbia, which only recently withdrew the last of its own MiG-21s. The Serbian Air Force now operates 14 MiG-29s, including four Yugoslavian-ordered planes that survived the 1999 NATO Allied Forces campaign, four second-hand aircraft donated by the Belarus and six supplied by Russia. The last of those jets was handed over this month and plans are for them all to be upgraded to a similar standard to the MiG-29SM, although they would still be considerably less capable than the Croatian Rafales.
While the Rafales supplied are second-hand and will be taken from French Air Force stocks, they will be upgraded to the advanced F3R standard, an approach similar to that chosen by Greece for its recent order for Burst of 18 aircraft. F3R provides, among other things, RBE2 EASA radar, enhanced Link 16 data link to improve interoperability, an updated Spectra electronic warfare / self-defense suite, and an automatic collision avoidance system on the ground. Weapon options in the F3R are expanded to include the MBDA Meteor air-to-air missile beyond visual range, the Thales TALIOS targeting pod and the laser-guided variant of the Sagem hammer precision air-to-ground weapon. So far, it is not clear which weapons Croatia will acquire for its fleet.
Beyond immediate regional considerations, Croatia’s choice of Rafale could open up the possibility of taking on new missions, as well as closer integration with France and other NATO member countries. In the past, Croatian officials have spoken optimistically about their participation in NATO operations – possibly including the Baltic Air Policing mission or similar activities – but it is not clear to how realistic these ambitions would be for a fleet of 12 fighters. As it stands, domestic rapid reaction alert (QRA) and other operations to protect Croatia’s own airspace will likely remain the primary missions of its fighter jets, meaning that the capabilities Rafale’s full multi-missions are unlikely to be fully exploited.
Talk to The war zone on condition of anonymity, a former MiG-21 pilot of the Croatian Air Force explained that he considered the Rafale an “absolutely unnecessary overkill” for the country, adding that even today, only About 30% of the MiG’s capabilities are actually used – mostly, QRA hustles and trains for these same missions.
Describing the Rafale decision as politically motivated, he expressed concern that no serious cost / benefit calculations had been provided for the full expected life of the new jets and he also pointed out that the existing infrastructure at the Zagreb-Pleso air base will require major renovation, including modern hangars.
Regarding personnel, the same source was also far from convinced that the Rafale was the right choice for Croatia, pointing to a shortage of pilots, most of whom are old and do not have full training to meet standards. of NATO, including the basics of modern airspace management. . As for technical staff, there is also a shortage of staff and these have limited experience in modern maintenance procedures.
Obviously, the Rafale package will have to include in-depth training elements and arrangements will have to be made to modernize the supporting infrastructure.
Finally, it should not be forgotten that today’s announcement is political and that the final contract and terms have yet to be negotiated and agreed. Either way, by choosing Rafale, whether it makes the most sense for the Air Force or not, Croatia is making a clear statement of intent in terms of defense modernization. This is especially good news for France and Dassault, who have added another nation to the growing list of Rafale customers.
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