July 17, 2003 (by Lieven Dewitte) - The Czech government decided last week to acquire 14 used jet fighters instead of running a tender to acquire new planes or leave Czech skies inadequately defended. The jets will either be purchased, leased or kindly accepted as a gift from another country.
The decision to go for the stop-gap solution should postpone the need to purchase new jets until 2009, but jet aircraft manufacturers will still follow the second-hand jet selection process closely. Industry insiders agreed that the company which supplies the government stands a better chance to win any future tender to supply new fighter aircraft.
At this early stage, used F-16s and the former Tornado F3 fighters from the U.K. appear to be the front-runners to meet the Czech army's short-term needs when its current MiG-21s come to the end of their operational service life in 2005.
The Czech Ministry of Defense will now ask eight countries - the U.S., U.K., Germany, Belgium
, Sweden, France and Canada - to give details about any used jets they could offer. Most of these countries have used F-16s available.
The U.K. has already passed on details of its used Tornados to the Czech Ministry of Defense. The other countries were asked to supply details of the planes and any conditions before Nov. 30 when the government should decide which offer to select.
The Czech Republic will probably make its final decision based on the immediate price of the deal, service costs of the aircraft and the possibility to use them in joint NATO
Ladislav Klima, who was the chief of the Czech air force in the 90s, considers the F-16s as the best solution. "There are two simple reasons. One is that the F-16 can secure interoperability with other NATO member states, and the second is that its operating costs are roughly three times lower than the Tornado's." Klima now works for Aero Vodochody, which is partially owned by Boeing.
Chief editor of air industry magazine Letectvi a Kosmonautika, Jan Cadil, was more circumspect. He said the price of the planes would be the decisive factor. "At this moment, I would see the chances as equal and it will depend on the offer," Cadil added. He agreed the operating costs for Tornados are higher than F-16s. "Tornados have two engines and two seats, whereas the F-16 has only one [engine and seat], so the costs are obviously lower," he said.
Germany could offer its Phantom jets, which were produced by the European-based consortium EADS and are interoperable with NATO forces. Poland
has recently acquired 19 old MiG-29 jets from the Luftwaffe for a symbolic price of EL 1. It will get the first shipment of 5 MiG-29s this September.