F-35 for Croatia? Here's what we know

Croatia buy F35
Lockheed Martin F-35A stealth fighter. The aircraft appears to have been targeted by Croatia.

Many readers were puzzled when Reuters last week published about Croatia's interest in F-35 stealth aircraft. According to the media, the news comes from a very reliable source: Greg Ulmer, executive vice president of aeronautics at Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin's fifth-generation aircraft was never mentioned as a candidate on the Croatian government list which includes Gripen, Rafale, F-16V and former Israeli Air Force F-16 Block 30. Croatia has known budget problems and the Lightning II is currently sold for about double the price of fourth-generation fighters.

However, Lockheed Martin's director of public relations for Europe, John Neilson, promptly appeased everyone by saying that "Croatia has asked about the F-35 at some point, but Lockheed Martin is now offering the F-16."

According to local media, the F-16V (or Block 70) has already been selected by Zagreb as the final candidate along with the Rafale.

The Croatian government should make its choice by 1 May with the signing of the contract by the end of the year.

The delivery date of the aircraft will be a determining factor as the MiG-21s of the Croatian Air Force will leave service in 2024.

Both Lockheed Martin and Dassault have already announced that they will take three to four years to produce and deliver the fighters from the signing of the contract. So, if signed in 2021, the aircraft will arrive in Croatia between 2024 and 2025.

Due to the long delay in the procurement of the new fighters, Croatia will have to agree with the selected partner an interim solution to bridge the gap between the withdrawal of the MiG and the entry into service of its replacement. The training of pilots and technicians should take approximately two years from delivery.

The temporary options foresee that the nation that will win the contract deploys fighters at Pleso Air Base, Croatia, to ensure the surveillance of Croatian airspace. The United States could also opt to launch interceptor fighters directly from Aviano Air Base, northern Italy, very close to Croatia.

Rumors also say that France could offer second-hand Rafale, as already happened with Greece, in this case the delivery would be very fast and many problems solved. If confirmed, we believe this may be one of the most likely to win options.

What is surprising is the nation's low interest in the Saab Gripen as it is the cheapest candidate [among the finalists] as well as the one with the shortest lead time. Strategic interests probably play against Sweden.

Written by Matteo Sanzani

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