Czech Republic opts to update Air Force with Gripen Fighters
11 December 2001
The Government of the Czech Republic has selected the SAAB-BAE Systems Gripen fighter to replace its ageing fleet of Mig 21 fighters, a move that represents another significant coup for the Anglo-Swedish group. Subject to the successful conclusion of contract negotiations 24 supersonic aircraft, the first squadron of which is expected to enter service in 2005, will update the Czech national defence capability and fulfil its required NATO commitments for the next 30 to 40 years. "We recognise a period of negotiations on complex issues lies ahead, but believe that this will lead to a successful solution for all concerned, "said Julian Scopes, regional managing director Europe with Gripen partner BAE Systems. "Gripen will give the Czech Air Force an outstanding multi-role defense capability, including air superiority within NATO and provide maximum weapons and support commonality with the L159 fleet."
Saab developed the Gripen for the Swedish air force with help from BAE and then joined that company, its 35 percent shareholder, to pursue exports. A firm Czech order would represent a third contract for BAE and Saab, putting them well ahead of European rivals Dassault Aviation SA of France and Eurofighter GmbH in the market for new-generation fighters. Neither of the larger and dearer Dassault and Eurofighter aircraft has secured a definite order.
The news will also be a considerable boon to the aeronautics industry in South Africa, reports DSD's Southern Africa correspondent Leon Engelbrecht. Important components of the Gripen, including incorporated fuselage sections and avionics, are manufactured by South African companies including Denel Aviation, avionics group Grintek and industrial design leaders Comau-AIMS
"As a direct result of the joint BAE Systems and Saab offset programme in South Africa, the country's local industry has become an important supplier to the Gripen, Hawk and Eurofighter programmes," said Linden Birns, the South African spokesman for BAE Systems and Saab. "To date, BAE Systems and Saab have implemented 17 industrial participation, or 'offset', projects in South Africa which are acknowledged by government to be on track to deliver about US6-billion (approximately R66-billion) in jobs, investments, new exports and skills and technology transfers over the next decade."
However, all celebrations will be put on hold until the deal is ratified in the Czech Parliament, a process that promises to be far from assured. The cash starved Czech Government had delayed the selection process several times due to the opposition within the Republic to such a significant outlay and this decision seems likely to cause significant ructions among the political parties.
Prime Minister Milos Zeman said the ministries of finance and defense had been instructed to draft a law to authorise financing for the aircraft before January 9 and estimated that a contract should be ready by mid-April. Defense Minister Jaroslav Tvrdik estimated that the aircraft would cost 50 billion korunas (1.5 billion euros, 1.4 billion dollars), with armaments for the planes costing another five billion korunas. Any purchase would require funding by a credit, which according to Czech law must be debated by parliament.
"The Czech Republic must have access to a supersonic fleet to be able to defend its airspace, similar to all countries in Europe except for two small states," President Vaclav Havel insisted Monday. However, Karel Kuehnl, head of the opposition Coalition of Four, has criticised the lack of consultation over the decision and insisted that the government has only "a small chance" of securing parliamentary approval.
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