Croatia opts for second-hand Rafales

Croatia has decided to purchase 12 second-hand Dassault Rafale F3-Rs from France to replace the nation’s matured Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21bis-D/UMD fleet, which currently comprises just eight airframes.

The decision – which came as part of the nation’s Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft programme – was formally announced by the Croatian Ministry of Defence in a press release on May 28. The French offer for ten single-seat Rafale C F3-Rs and a pair of two-seat Rafale B F3-Rs is valued at €999m and was deemed to be the best proposal by Croatia.

French Rafale C in flight during Exercise Atlantic Trident 21 [USAF/Staff Sgt Alexander Cook]
A French Air and Space Force-operated Dassault Rafale C flies over southwestern France during Exercise Atlantic Trident on May 18, 2021.  USAF/Staff Sgt Alexander Cook

On May 28, the Croatian government officially approved the purchase. Each of the 12 Rafales involved in this deal will be former Armée de l'Air et de l'Espace (AAE, French Air and Space Force) aircraft, which will be upgraded to F3-R standard before their delivery to Croatia. The deal will be formalised through a government-to-government contract, which is expected to be signed later this year. Payment for the second-hand Rafales will be made in a series of instalments.

The Croatian government launched the procurement process for a new multi-role fighter on July 4, 2019. While France’s Rafale bid was ultimately selected, Croatia had also been offered new Lockheed Martin F-16C/D Block 70 Fighting Falcons from the US, new Saab JAS-39C/D Gripens from Sweden and used F-16C/D Block 30s from Israel.

In addition to the 12 Rafales, the French offer includes a flight simulator; a basic weapons package; ground and test equipment; spares/repair parts; personnel training; comprehensive support for a three-year period and a 12-month warranty on each aircraft, engine and other equipment/parts delivered. As the Croatian MiG-21bis-D/UMD fleet’s service life expires in 2024, it had become necessary for the nation to bring a new multi-role fighter into operational use as soon as possible. Delivery of the first six Rafales is planned to occur in 2024, with the remaining six following in 2025.

Croatia had been looking for a new multi-role fighter since mid-2015, but the process was continually delayed. In 2018, Croatia was set to purchase 12 surplus F-16C/Ds (ten single-seat F-16Cs and a pair of two-seat F-16Ds) from Israel, but the US blocked the deal in December 2018, and it was eventually cancelled in January 2019.

With this selection, Croatia becomes the fifth export customer for the Rafale, which has also been acquired by Egypt, Greece, India and Qatar. Most recently, Egypt confirmed its satisfaction with the multi-role fighter by ordering a further 30 aircraft on May 4, 2021.