Saturday, 29 June 2019

Council for Defence Reaffirms Need to Protect Airspace with Own Aircraft

ZAGREB, June 29, 2019 - The Croatian Council for Defence on Friday reaffirmed the need to preserve the capability for airspace protection with own multi-purpose combat aircraft, the President's Office said in a statement on Friday evening following two and a half hours of talks at government headquarters.

The Council discussed activities in the process of procuring multi-purpose combat aircraft for the Croatian Armed Forces. It proposed that the government set up an interdepartmental commission to implement all activities relating to the procurement of multi-purpose combat aircraft, the statement said.

Speaking to reporters before the Council meeting, Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said that it would discuss the restarting of the process of purchasing fighter jets for the Croatian Air Force.

Media have speculated that Krstičević will give the green light to solicit bids from the United States and Sweden. Meanwhile, an offer has emerged from arms dealer Zvonko Zubak who reportedly offered to sell 12 used Mirage 2000 aircraft for 79.5 million dollars.

Krstičević declined to comment on these reports, saying that he would not speculate.

More news about Croatian Airforce can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Croatia Remains Determined to Procure Fighter Jets

ZAGREB, May 23, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Thursday the government remained resolute to resolve the strategic issue of procuring fighter jets and that it was discussing it with Sweden and the US.

Speaking to the press after the government adopted a defence report for 2018, he said the incumbent government was bolstering and modernising the Croatian army in a systematic and organised way.

Krstičević said Croatia and future generations needed fighter aircraft, and that the procurement of fighter jets would be a huge technological step forward for the Croatian army.

He said that after talks with Israel failed, the procurement was being discussed with the US and Sweden. "When we have concrete information, we will inform the public in a timely manner."

In selecting the best bid, the team of experts in charge will "think of what is best for Croatia," he said. Asked which bid the government was more inclined to, he would not "speculate" and said "there's time."

"We approximately know what the prices are," the minister said, adding that in the procurement attempt with Israel and based on Bulgaria's and Slovakia's fighter aircraft purchases, Croatia had gained the necessary experience and that the crucial thing was that the government was determined to resolve this issue.

The government on Thursday also sent to parliament a bill of amendments to the Defence Act which regulates the establishment of a multinational helicopter crew training centre in Zemunik as well as rules of action in cyberspace for the requirements of the Defence Ministry and the Armed Forces.

The amendments are in line with Croatia's commitments as a member of NATO and international organisations, said Defence Minister Damir Krstičević.

The training centre will be the first of its kind in Croatia, for which purpose the US will provide two new Black Hawk helicopters worth 350 million kuna, he said, adding that an excellence centre would also be established in Zemunik.

The government also endorsed a defence report for 2018, with Krstičević saying it noted a further increase in the defence budget begun in 2017. "The Croatian army is a brand in international missions and operations and our members continue to bolster our country's reputation every day," he said.

More news about the aircraft procurement can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Rudolf Perešin MiG-21 Put on Display Outside Defence Ministry

ZAGREB, May 12, 2019 - A ceremony was held outside the Defence Ministry building in Zagreb on Sunday to formally mark the return of a MiG-21 fighter jet with which Croatian pilot Rudolf Perešin defected from the Yugoslav Air Force in October 1991.

Perešin flew the plane from a Yugoslav Air Force base near the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihać to Klagenfurt, Austria, which was seen as an act of moral victory at the start of Serbian military aggression against Croatia in 1991. The plane was returned to Zagreb earlier this month and will remain on display outside the Defence Ministry until the end of May, after which it will be relocated to the Croatian Air Force base at Pleso.

Addressing the ceremony, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said that the plane was one of the main symbols of the 1991-1995 Homeland War, adding that its return after 28 years of quiet diplomacy and government efforts was a mark of honour to all Croatian veterans and their families.

"The story of Rudolf Perešin and this plane is a story of freedom. It must remain with us forever. The message Rudolf Perešin sent in October 1991 to Croatian defenders, the entire Croatian nation and the entire world, is a message of freedom, courage, strength, boldness and patriotism. That message is again with us here today," the prime minister said.

Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said: "This plane is a living piece of history and a symbol of the start of the Croatian Army and the Croatian Air Force, a symbol of victory, resistance against aggression and the fight of the Croatian nation for its independence. Its return is of an immeasurable value to our country."

Rudolf Perešin decided to leave the Yugoslav People's Army (JNA) on 25 October 1991, undertaking a risky flight from Bihac to Klagenfurt. He was later quoted by media as saying: "I am Croatian, I cannot and won't shoot at Croatians."

Perešin was killed on 2 May 1995 during Operation Flash in the Western Slavonia region when his MiG was shot down by Serb anti-aircraft artillery. His remains were found only two and a half years later, and he was given a formal burial at Zagreb's Mirogoj Cemetery in 1997.

More news about the Homeland War can be found in the Politics section.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

Croatian Pilots Fly with US F-16 Fighter Jets

ZAGREB, April 7, 2019 - As part of the visit by members of 148th Fighter Wing - Minnesota National Guard to the 91st Air Base of the Croatian Air Force, squadron pilots had joint flying with pilots of multi-purpose F-16 fighter jets of the Minnesota National Guard on Saturday, the Croatian Defence Ministry said in a press release.

Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević, Croatian Armed Forces Chief of Staff Mirko Šundov, US Ambassador to Croatia Robert Kohorst and US military envoy to Croatia Robert Mathers visited the pilots before the flight, the press release said.

Minister Krstičević said this was a historic event and another confirmation of friendship and strategic partnership between Croatia and the United States.

Ambassador Kohorst expressed satisfaction with the visit of the Minnesota National Guard, the press release said.

More news about the military relations between Croatia and the United States can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Croatia and the United States Key Partners in Defence

ZAGREB, March 7, 2019 - Croatian Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said in Zadar on Thursday that the government was determined to maintain the combat readiness of the air force and that Croatia was in contact with all interested parties concerning its plan to purchase fighter jets. In this context, Krstičević said that Croatia and the United States are key partners in defence and security. We have good relations. We talk with all interested parties and after we analyse the whole situation, we will make the next step.

Krstičević said this when asked by the press to comment on U.S. Ambassador Robert Kohorst's statement about the United States being supportive of whatever Croatia decides regarding F-16 combat aircraft.

Asked if the United States was willing to negotiate directly with Croatia about the purchase of F-16 fighter jets, Kohorst said that the US would fully support Croatia's decision on the matter.

"We are fully supportive of whatever Croatia decides with F-16s, we don't have a position as to what that decision should be, we are waiting for the government to make their position clear, and we are happy to be supportive. We are a good military ally of Croatia, Croatia is with us and we want to be fully supportive of what they do," said Kohorst in Zagreb earlier in the day.

More news on the fighter jet acquisition can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 15 February 2019

Government Defends Failed F-16 Fighter Jets Purchase

ZAGREB, February 15, 2019 - Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said in the parliament on Thursday that he supported Defence Minister Damir Krstičević because all activities regarding the failed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel had been conducted transparently and in line with the law, recalling that one of the reasons why the purchase of the military aircraft had been launched was the failed overhaul of MiG21 jets in 2013, when the government was led by the Social Democrats (SDP).

"The government rejects all allegations from the motion (for a debate on the failed jet purchase) as unfounded and incorrect and proposes that the parliament reject the conclusions in the motion," Plenković said during a debate on the SDP-sponsored motion. He said that no such motion had been filed over the failed overhaul of MiG jets even though the case was subject to legal proceedings in Croatia and Ukraine.

Plenković dismissed allegations that the failed jet purchase had jeopardised Croatia's security and position in the international community, adding that the allegations were based on superficial assessments, lack of understanding of the subject matter and political opportunism.

"As regards the US approval for the Third-Party Transfer (TPT), I want to stress that the country owning and selling military equipment, in this case Israel, is responsible for obtaining approval for TPT. Croatia was aware of the need to obtain approval for TPT from the start of the procurement procedure, but it is impossible to entirely eliminate all risks in any process," he said, explaining the chronology of the failed jet purchase.

The public was informed of every step of the procurement procedure, including difficulties in obtaining approval for TPT, he added.

"It is not true that Croatia's international reputation has been compromised. Both the US and Israel have stressed that they want to continue developing ally and partner relations with Croatia and deepen their defence cooperation with Croatia. Israel has stated publicly that Croatia demonstrated professionalism and sound judgement at every stage of the process and could not impact the outcome of the process and therefore could not be considered responsible, which is what the US has confirmed as well," said the prime minister.

He reiterated that there was also no harm for the state budget. "We will learn lessons from this, but we are determined to modernise the Air Force, and based on analyses and preparations, we will embark on new activities towards that goal. The government backs Defence Minister Krstičević," Plenković said.

Krstičević did not address MPs, but Plenkovic's address drew numerous reactions.

"You have reduced one of the most important strategic decisions to a cheap PR exercise and crisis communication. With your non-transparency, you have given new arguments to opponents of the plan to purchase combat aircraft and thus jeopardised the future of the Croatian Air Force and national security. How can one trust your vision if one day you want more used aircraft and the next day you want fewer new aircraft. You are no better than those who think that the Croatian skies should be given over to Italians and Hungarians," said Nikola Grmoja of the opposition MOST party.

HRAST MP Hrvoje Zekanović said that Defence Minister Damir Krstičević had done a good job, while the prime minister and the president had failed. Citing military analysts, he said that NATO's strategy did not foresee Croatia having its own combat aircraft. "You did not do your lobbying of President Trump," he said.

"Neither you nor these people from MOST will ever be in a position to decide anything that concerns the government, either the development of the Air Force or the conduct of the foreign policy. These are nothing but the dreams of the people who use these issues to attract public attention, without providing any arguments," Plenković replied.

More news on the failed jet purchase can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Croatian Parliament Debates Failed F-16 Procurement

ZAGREB, February 14, 2019 - Speaking ahead of a parliamentary debate on the failed acquisition of F-16 fighter jets from Israel, Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Davor Bernardić on Thursday called on the government to deliver all the documents from the failed process of F-16 procurement to parliament within 15 days, including a non-paper which the US ambassador had personally handed over to the prime minister.

"We want to determine the truth about the procurement of the aircraft squadron and the responsibility of the defence minister and government, as well as ensure that future procurement procedures, particularly those exceeding 1 billion kuna, are conducted transparently and legally and not through a direct deal and without a public tender," Bernardić told a press conference.

He reiterated that the SDP wanted parliament to determine the facts, to show that that procurement procedure was not conducted transparently and that the country's defence capabilities and international reputation were jeopardised.

Prime Minister Andrej Plenković said on Thursday he expected the opposition Social Democratic Party's (SDP) motion for a parliamentary debate on the failed purchase of F-16 fighter jets from Israel to be rejected.

Speaking to reporters on arriving for the debate in parliament, Plenković said that the government had analysed the procurement process and would present its findings in the debate. He added that he expected the debate to be held in an atmosphere of tolerance.

Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said: "We want a well-reasoned debate based on facts and truth. The Croatian government has come here to tell the truth about this project. As you have seen, Croatia did everything correctly. We received all the necessary guarantees. Croatia did nothing wrong, and both Israel and the US have confirmed this."

Asked if he was still in favour of reaching a direct deal with the US, Krstičević replied: "First and foremost, I am in favour of making the Croatian army stronger."

More news on the F-16 acquisition can be found in the Politics section.

Monday, 11 February 2019

Minister Denies Hidden Costs in Failed F-16 Jets Purchase

ZAGREB, February 11, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Monday, when asked about hidden costs for the procurement of F-16 jets from Israel, that he "said everything there was to say on that" and that he expected a well-argued debate in parliament on the government's work due to the failed procurement.

He was responding to questions from the press, who asked if there were additional hidden costs for the procurement of the F-16s after the Defence Ministry published that 400,000 kuna was spent on a Croatian delegation's trips to Israel and that 190,000 kuna was paid to the Deloitte consulting company.

Krstičević also commented on a patrol boat project. "All strategically important projects of the Croatian army are being implemented. The patrol boat project was four years late. In the end, we received the boat and the navy is currently examining the boat."

Asked about business people's suggestion about the establishment of a centre for the research of new material and development of new equipment, Krstičević said, "We recently established a combat leader centre and a centre for unmanned aerial systems, and a cyber space command is also being planned because the Croatian army, aside from land, sea and air, wants to systematically enter cyber space."

"It's therefore important that we establish a department which will systematically do research and development. This year we will establish an organisation or a body which the Croatian army needs and which will be in touch with domestic military equipment manufacturers," he said.

More news on the Ministry of Defence can be found in the Politics section.

Friday, 8 February 2019

Decision on New Fighter Jets Coming After Analysis of Failed Tender

ZAGREB, February 8, 2019 - Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said on Thursday he would not back down from his opinion that Croatia needed multi-purpose fighter jets, adding that a decision in that regard would be made after a detailed analysis of the failed acquisition of Israeli F-16 Barak aircraft.

After a presentation of the Defence Ministry's procurement plan for 2019, Krstičević denied speculation that Croatia would not be buying fighter jets because his presentation did not specify what jets Croatia wanted to buy or from whom.

"First we are waiting for a parliamentary debate. We are conducting a detailed analysis of the process. After we make a complete analysis, we will start the process of selecting fighter jets. Since that is a very complex process, we need to see all aspects and decide how to resolve this matter which is vital for our future. Naturally, we would like this issue to be above party politics," Krstičević said.

He reiterated that the entire process that failed had been conducted cleanly, in detail and transparently and that Croatia was not responsible for anything but that it had to learn the moral of this story and see how to resolve it in the future.

Asked about the prime minister's announcement that he would include additional stakeholders to be responsible for the procurement process, Krstičević rejected speculation that the prime minister didn't trust him and that he was seeking additional controls.

"As far as trust is concerned. I am here. I am the minister and I don't think that is true," he said. He added that in his opinion people from other government departments and state institutions should be included in this complex process.

Asked if he was still in favour of acquiring new American F-16 aircraft, he said that once an analysis was completed, it would be clear how this would unfold.

More news on the failed acquisition of fighter jets can be found in the Politics section.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Government Dismisses SDP’s Interpellation on Fighter Jets Acquisition

ZAGREB, February 7, 2019 - The government on Thursday unanimously adopted a report on an interpellation submitted by 16 Social Democratic Party (SDP) MPs about its performance in the procurement of fighter jets, assessing the claims in the interpellation as unfounded.

"The government conducted this very complex process systematically and responsibly, guided solely by Croatia's national interests, in line with the Defence Act and the Public Procurement Act. The selection of the multipurpose fighter jets was conducted transparently, with clear criteria and equal terms for all interested parties," Defence Minister Damir Krstičević said presenting the report.

He said no bidding country complained about the procurement procedure. He said the parliamentary defence committee and the Defence Council were included in the process from the start and were informed about the procurement in time and in detail.

Israel's bid cost 475 million dollars. Greece's cost 171 million euro, although additional costs were not defined, the aircraft were not modernised and total costs could not be estimated. Sweden's bid cost 933 million euro and total costs were estimated at 1.11 billion euro. The basic US offer cost 1.553 billion euro, excluding weaponry and training costs and total costs could not be estimated.

Krstičević said "it was concluded that Israel's bid would be complete and the most acceptable, including financially." He said Israel provided preliminary approval for the transfer of technical data in the configuration requested so that its bid could be valid.

It was Israel's obligation to obtain the US government's final permission for the delivery of the aircraft in the appropriate configuration and Israel officially notified Croatia that, contrary to the obligation undertaken, it could not obtain permission from the US for the delivery of F-16 Barak aircraft.

Croatia could not influence that and is not responsible, the minister said. "We asked all the necessary questions and received the appropriate guarantees."

He underlined that Croatia had not undertaken any financial obligations and that it suffered no consequences in the procurement procedure. "The government acted with due attention and we didn't ignore the views presented during the procurement procedure," he said, adding that, "with the intention to obtain all the necessary information and examine the procedure and terms of acquiring the transfer, additional consultations were made with the most relevant interlocutors in Israel and the US."

During the whole process, the government showed determination to ensure the best aircraft for the most affordable price.

"Croatia remains a key strategic partner to the US and this won't change. We underline that no action in this process has threatened the long-term stability and viability of the Croatian Air Force," said Krstičević.

The government will continue to seek a solution for maintaining the capability of the fighter jets we developed during the Homeland War, he added.

"It's important that we continue to have good relations with Israel and the US. And when it comes to defence cooperation, we will adopt some decisions at this meeting, which further confirms the continuity and intensity of our cooperation," said Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

Late last month, the opposition SDP submitted an interpellation to parliament on the government's failure to procure F-16 Baraks from Israel, demanding that the government tell parliament why the procurement had failed.

The SDP wants parliament to establish if Krstičević and Plenković were responsible for the failure and to ensure that future procurement procedures, especially such expensive ones, be carried out transparently and in line with the Defence Act.

The interpellation signatories maintain that the government, notably the Defence Ministry, did not act transparently and with due attention, claiming that they did not take into account Croatia's overall interests and the positions of the US as the third party. Citing Croatia-US correspondence published in the media, they say the US clearly indicated that it was against the procurement as Krstičević wanted to implement it.

More news on the fighter jet debacle can be found in the Politics section.

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