An Israeli F16 fighter jet takes off during a joint international aerial training exercise hosted by Israel and dubbed "Blue Flag 2017" at Ovda military air base in southern Israel November 8, 2017. Picture taken November 8, 2017. (REUTERS/Amir Cohen).
(photo credit: REUTERS/AMIR COHEN)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic have agreed to push forward with a sale of Israel Air Force F-16 fighter jets to Croatia, which has been upgrading its air force.
Croatia has been considering a purchase of Israeli jets in order to replace its fleet of 12 Soviet-designed Mikoyan MiG-21 fighter jets, to be delivered by late 2020.
The deal is expected to be worth some $500 million, subject to the conditions of a tender, and the final decision on the bid winner is set to be made by the end of the year.
“This development is another expression of the deep ties between the two countries,” read a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Other contenders for the fighter jet deal include secondhand Lockheed Martin’s F-16 offered by the US and Greece, and Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen from Sweden. A report by the Defense News website said the Croatian government had initially considered purchasing the French Mirage or a variant of South Korea’s T-50 when the plan was unveiled in 2015.
Croatian media reported that Israel had amended its initial bid after stiff competition from Sweden, offering to supply a mixed fleet of F-16C/Ds that are still in active service in the Israel Air Force as well as the older F-16A/Bs.
In December 2016, Israel retired its fleet of F-16A and F-16B (Netz) fighter jets, after 36 years in which the jets had become the backbone of the Israel Air Force. The F-16B variants are two-seat aircraft, which are flown by both a pilot and a navigator, unlike the F-16A that is operated by one person.
Israel’s F-16A/Bs were originally destined for the Imperial Iranian Air Force, but with the fall of the shah in the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the establishment of the fundamentalist regime, and following the signing of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt, Jerusalem reached an agreement to acquire the advanced jet from the United States under the Peace Marble I Foreign Military Sales program.
The first four F-16A/Bs arrived in Israel in July 1980 and achieved initial operating capability a few weeks later.
With the F-16C/D Barak, and one of the most advanced F16s ever built, the F-16I Soufa, Israel flies the largest contingent of F-16s outside the United States, with close to 300 jets. All the aircraft have been heavily modified with Israeli-made avionics, self-protection systems, radar and advanced weapons such as the Python-4 and -5 air-to-air missiles and the Popeye and Spice air-to-ground missiles.