Croatia Buys Second-Hand Rafales From France To Replace MiG-21s

File photo of two French Rafales. (Photo: Dassault)

The signing of the contract follows the selection of Rafale earlier this year, after a first acquisition of second-hand F-16s failed in 2019.

Croatia signed a government-to-government deal with France, worth 999 million euros, for the acquisition of 12 second-hand Dassault Rafale during a ceremony in Zagreb on Nov. 25, 2021. The ceremony was attended by the French President Emmanuel Macron and the Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, the French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly and the Croatian Minister of Defense Mario Banozic, and the CEO of Dassault Aviation Eric Trappier.

“The purchase of the planes strategically is what we see as a game changer for Croatia,” said Plenkovic at a joint press conference with Macron after the signing ceremony. “This will not only give us the ability to avert those who have any aspirations toward our territory but also to become the so-called exporters of security [and] of stability in southeastern Europe,” he said.

The French President Macron said: “By deciding to buy twelve Rafale fighter jets from France, Croatia is choosing excellence and strategic convergence between our countries. With us, it sets a new milestone for a Europe of defense.” Following the ceremony, two Rafales performed a low pass over Zagreb.

The contract reportedly involves 10 single-seater and two twin-seater Rafales in the F3-R standard, with the first six aircraft scheduled to be delivered in 2024 and the remaining ones due the following year. The French jets will allow Croatia to replace its obsolete MiG-21s, of which only few are still operational out of the 12 total aircraft in service.

Two Croatian MiG-21s in flight last year before an integration mission with B-52 bombers. (Photo: Croatian MoD)

The Rafale was selected on May 28, 2021, following an international competition which saw the French aircraft facing the Saab Gripen, the F-16V Block 70/72, second-hand F-16s from Israel and, according to some sources, even second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy. This deal is considered the largest acquisition program since Croatia’s independence from the former Yugoslavia.

A first deal for the acquisition of 12 second-hand Israeli F-16C/Ds, worth 420 million euros, failed in 2019 when the U.S. Congress vetoed the transfer of the jets, requesting under the Third Party Transfer (TPT) guidelines the removal of all Israeli modifications on the aircraft before the program could go ahead. The Croatian government therefore decided to cancel the deal, starting a new competition in 2020.

Croatia’s Rafale deal might be considered similar to the one signed by Greece, although the latter agreed to buy a mix of both new and second-hand aircraft from France. In the Greek case, the Rafales were bought as tensions between Greece and Turkey continued to increase, while in the Croatian case the deal is considered as a response to the rearming of the Serbian armed forces, which recently received four MiG-29s from Belarus and another six from Russia, with plans to upgrade them to the SM standard.

About Stefano D'Urso
Stefano D'Urso is a freelance journalist and contributor to TheAviationist based in Lecce, Italy. A graduate in Industral Engineering he's also studying to achieve a Master Degree in Aerospace Engineering. Electronic Warfare, Loitering Munitions and OSINT techniques applied to the world of military operations and current conflicts are among his areas of expertise.