The first six supersonic Jas-39 Gripen fighter jets leased from Sweden by the Czech Republic arrived in the country on Monday, the Defence Ministry has said. Eight more are to join the Czech air force by the end of August. The Gripens will be leased for 10 years at a cost of almost 20 billion crowns (850 million dollars), after which the country has an option to buy them or return them to Sweden. The planes will gradually replace the obsolete soviet MiG-21s. The deal, signed in June 2004, commits Sweden to investing 130 percent of the contract's value in so called "off-sets" in the Czech Republic, 20 percent of which will be direct investments in the Czech economy. The lease of the Gripens was approved by former Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla's government last June.
Two Czech test pilots have begun training on JAS-39 Gripen fighters in Sweden. The men will return home as pilot-instructors themselves in a few months time to begin training their Czech colleagues. The Czech government agreed to lease the Swedish jets for the next ten years. As of May 2005, the Czech air force will decommission the fleets Russian-made MIG-21s.
A report published last week by the Working Group on Arms Trade Control — a non-governmental team of experts led by the Czech branch of the global corruption watchdog Transparency International — points to a number of "risk factors" in Czech legislation and oversight which leave this country's arms trade open to corruption.
The Czech Minister of Foreign Affairs, Cyril Svoboda, has warned that the Czech government's decision to acquire Swedish Gripen fighters jets could have a negative effect on Czech-American relations. The CTK news agency quoted unnamed diplomatic sources that this Czech participation in the renewal of Iraq could suffer as a result. On Wednesday, the Czech government decided in favour of the Gripens over U.S.-made F-16s. A few days before, the U.S. ambassador to Prague, Craig Stapleton, had hinted that Czech-American relations could feel an impact if the cabinet selected the Gripens. The government wants to lease 14 new Jas-39 Gripens for over 17 billion crowns for ten years. The modern fighters should replace the ageing Soviet-made MiG-21s by 2005.
The Czech cabinet, in the midst of deciding amongst five proposals to replace the country's aging fleet of MiG-21 fighter jets, has indicated more time may be needed to reach a final decision. Earlier, it was expected the government would reach a decision on the purchase this Wednesday. However, some government officials have revealed an extraordinary government session may be needed to decide on the purchase later, Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla saying the matter was "too serious to decide in haste". In the government tender the Czech Republic received five offers on new fighter jets from countries including Sweden, Belgium, the U.S., and the Netherlands, with a commission of experts recommending in November that the Czech Air Force opt for Sweden's offer for 14 Gripen fighter jets, manufactured by Saab/BAE Systems. Since then, Belgium, the U.S., and the Netherlands have all expressed the desire to put forward what they called new and final bids, a possibility the Defence Ministry has rejected thus far.
The European Commission's Monitoring Report on the candidate states is the top story on all front pages with the papers featuring a list of the European Commission's main objections. The general tone though is upbeat with the papers commenting on how the Czech Republic had improved its position in recent years. "Today's report is a very nice B plus" reads the lead headline in Mlada Fronta Dnes.