Sweden offers Croatia Gripen fighters


ZAGREB, Croatia -- Sweden has offered eight Saab Gripen fighters to Croatia to replace its aging fleet of Soviet-made MiG-21 combat aircraft, Croatia's defense ministry said Thursday.

The offer for a 10-year lease includes a support and training package for Croatian pilots and technicians, plus an unspecified deal with Croatian companies. No financial or other details were released.

NATO-member Croatia has six MiG-21s in its air force. The jets made in the 1960s, which once belonged to the ex-Yugoslav air force, are reaching the end of their operational life unless urgently refurbished.

The aircraft ended up in Croatia when its pilots defected in 1991 from the federal air force at the start of the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

"We are pleased to present this offer which has been prepared in close collaboration with Croatia," Peter Gothe, deputy director of the Swedish Defense and Security Export Agency, said in a statement. "Gripen is one of the most cutting edge fighters in the world while being efficient and robust with low lifecycle costs at the same time."

Saab has previously supplied 14 Gripens to the air forces of Hungary and the Czech Republic each as the replacement for their decommissioned MiG-21s. Outside Sweden, the fighter is also in the air forces of South Africa and Thailand.