First Six Dassault Rafale Fighter Jets Delivered To Croatia

Rafale Croatia
The first Croatian Air Force Rafale taxi at Zagreb airport (Croatia MOD)

The six Rafale multirole combat aircraft were welcomed at the Zagreb operational base by the President of the Republic of Croatia Zoran Milanović, the Prime Minister Andrej Plenković and the Minister of Defense Ivan Anušić.

After acquiring 12 Rafale aircraft from the French Air and Space Force in November 2021, the Croatian Air Force – Hrvatsko ratno zrakoplovstvo i protuzračna obrana (HRZ i PZO) – received the first six Rafale on Apr. 25, 2024, at the 91 operational base near Zagreb.

These aircraft were flown by Croatian pilots who underwent training in France and were welcomed during a ceremony attended by President Zoran Milanović, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, and Defense Minister Ivan Anušić.

The Rafale jets, that took off from the Dassault Aviation facility in Mérignac, will be integrated into the 191 Eskadrila Lovačkih Aviona (ELA) (191 Squadron) of the Croatian Air Force.

Additional Rafale aircraft are expected to arrive starting from the end of 2024, aiming to establish a complete squadron by mid-2025.

“The successful delivery of these first Rafale aircraft by the Croatian Air Force highlights the skill and dedication of its pilots and personnel, underscoring Croatia’s strong partnership with France. Dassault Aviation remains committed to ensuring the full integration and logistical support of the Rafale in the Croatian Air Force, bolstering Croatia’s sovereignty and enhancing its operational capabilities within NATO,” stated Éric Trappier, Chairman and CEO of Dassault Aviation, in a public statement.

A group of 12 Croatian pilots commenced training on the Rafale at Saint-Dizier, with ground personnel and maintainers undergoing training at Mont-de-Marsan in 2023. According to the Croatian Ministry of Defense, Croatian pilots began conducting solo missions on the Rafale in May. Overall, France will provide training for approximately 80 Croatian personnel over an 18-month period.

Croatia is the last European operator of the MiG-21 Fishbed, with only a few of the 12 aircraft in service still operational. The acquisition of second-hand French Rafale jets will enable Croatia to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-era jets, marking the largest procurement program since Croatia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The procurement

Croatia and France finalized a government-to-government agreement valued at 999 million Euro for the purchase of 12 second-hand Dassault Rafale aircraft during a ceremony in Zagreb on Nov. 25, 2021. The event was attended by French President Emmanuel Macron, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, French Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, Croatian Minister of Defense Mario Banozic, and Dassault Aviation CEO Eric Trappier.

Under the contract, Croatia would receive 10 single-seater and two twin-seater Rafales in the F3-R standard, with the initial six aircraft slated for delivery in 2024 and the remaining jets expected the following year.

The selection of the Rafale came after an international competition concluded on May 28, 2021, which pitted the French aircraft against contenders such as the Saab Gripen, F-16V Block 70/72, second-hand F-16s from Israel, and reportedly even second-hand Eurofighter Typhoons from Italy.

Previously, Croatia’s attempt to acquire 12 second-hand Israeli F-16C/Ds for 420 million Euro in 2019 was unsuccessful when the U.S. Congress vetoed the transfer, citing Third Party Transfer (TPT) guidelines that required the removal of all Israeli modifications from the aircraft. Subsequently, Croatia canceled the deal and initiated a new procurement process in 2020.

About David Cenciotti
David Cenciotti is a journalist based in Rome, Italy. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviationist”, one of the world’s most famous and read military aviation blogs. Since 1996, he has written for major worldwide magazines, including Air Forces Monthly, Combat Aircraft, and many others, covering aviation, defense, war, industry, intelligence, crime and cyberwar. He has reported from the U.S., Europe, Australia and Syria, and flown several combat planes with different air forces. He is a former 2nd Lt. of the Italian Air Force, a private pilot and a graduate in Computer Engineering. He has written five books and contributed to many more ones.