Czech Cabinet approves Gripen acquisition proposal
23 April 2002
A draft proposal to purchase 24 supersonic jet fighters JAS 39 Gripen from BAE SYSTEMS/SAAB consortium has received universal backing in the Czech Cabinet. Defence Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik has said that the purchase, which includes scope for local industrial co-operation, is approximately CZK 60.2 billion.
CZK 49.9 billion is to be spent on the fighters themselves, a further CZK 1.7 billion will cover equipment and services, and the remaining CZK 0.9 billion will pay for training in Sweden and the UK. However, the project is yet to be ratified by Parliament and with an election due in June, a different Government could take a different view of the project.
It seems no fighter acquisition programme can reach the light of day without the usual calls of inappropriate goings-on. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault Aviation of France and Eurofighter all pulled out of the tender process grumbling that it was biased in favour of the Gripen consortium.
The US Ambassador to the Czech Republic even went so far as to send a letter to the Czech Ministry of Defence saying that the Gripen had an inadequate combat range, and "some unresolved problems with its air -to-air refuelling capability". The accusations were swiftly rebutted by Tvrdik on the same radio station that had aired them, saying "We have no doubts that the Gripens will meet all necessary NATO standards."
The planes should be financed from privatisation revenues, Tvrdik said, adding that the deal might require some changes to existing legislation, in addition to a bill on loans submitted to Parliament. In a bid to sway the Czechs, BAE SYSTEMS offered to buy a stake in state-owned Aero Vodochody to which it could then use as a sub-contractor. Furthermore, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has attracted flak for lobbying the Czech government on behalf of the Gripen bid, as BAE SYSTEMS is a contributor to his Labour party.
The Gripen consortium is benefiting from European nations looking to fulfil their responsibilities to NATO. Export contracts have been secured in South Africa and Hungary and the consortium awaits decisions from Poland, Austria and Malaysia. If the Czech contract goes ahead, the first aircraft could be delivered as early as 2004.
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