Grippen deal near signing

21-03-2002

The Czech army is about to conclude perhaps the biggest deal in its history - to buy a fleet of 24 third-generation supersonic multi-role JAS-39 Gripen combat aircraft from the British-Swedish consortium of BAE Systems/Saab. The project has not only significant military but also economic implications as the supplier has offered the Czech Republic generous investment projects.

The Czech army is about to conclude perhaps the biggest deal in its history - to buy a fleet of 24 third-generation supersonic multi-role JAS-39 Gripen combat aircraft from the British-Swedish consortium of BAE Systems/Saab. The project has not only significant military but also economic implications as the supplier has offered the Czech Republic generous investment projects.

Czech defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik and senior army officials visited Sweden last week to negotiate the contract. The commander in chief of the Czech Air Force, Frantisek Padelek, was absolutely amazed by the capabilities of the aircraft.

"We see that it's true what they say about Gripen, at least from my experience of flying the aircraft. It has excellent manoeuvrability - even though I was in the cockpit for the first time, I was able to fly it. My colleague also showed me some combat manoeuvres - it's possible to carry out a number of different tasks in- flight. Gripen definitely does deserve being part of the Czech Air Force and we would be very happy if it were."

Jindrich Ploch, the director of the National Office for Armaments confirmed, said that Gripen would work with the current Czech infrastructure and weapon systems:

"The Grippen weapon system is compatible and interoperable with our current equipment, it can share certain procedures. Of course, Sweden is not a member of NATO so the aircraft is not used for the same purposes here. But we have seen that it is versatile to such a degree that it will have no problems meeting further requirements."

Although Gripen is easily operable, Czech pilots will have to undergo thorough training. Our correspondent Jaromir Marek spoke to Fredrik Heden, the commander in chief of Skaraborg airbase.

The consortium of BAE-SYSTEMS and Saab said the price of 24 Gripens would be under 50 billion crowns (or 1.5 billion USD). BAE SYSTEMS/Saab have offered the Czech government offset programs of 150 percent of the value of the potential contract. The projects in the offset program are focused on a wide range of industrial companies and also involve the Czech aircraft manufacturers Moravan Otrokovice and Let Kunovice, as well as the aircraft parts producer Jihlavan.

The purchase of Gripens is yet to be approved by the Czech parliament. Although there have been some fierce opponents of the deal, it seems nothing stands in its way now. However, as some critics point out, the costs will actually be higher than the purchasing price and may amount to a total of 100 billion Czech crowns. The additional costs include adaptation of airfields, training of pilots, fitting the aircraft with weaponry and, naturally, operating costs. These costs are, however, excluded from the value of the offset programmes. Ian Mcnamee from BAE Systems gave us more details:

As we have mentioned, BAE Systems - Saab are offering investment in the Czech aerospace industry. It also offered to enter the Czech aircraft maker Aero Vodochody, now jointly owned by the Czech state and US Boeing. The company is supplying the Czech army with new sub-sonic fighters L-159, however, it has problems penetrating international markets and faces financial difficulties.

Defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdik said that the Czech government would welcome cooperation with BAE Systems-Saab, BUT:

"As far as Aero Vodochody is concerned, further developments do not depend just on the position of the Czech Government or that of the BAE SYSTEMS-Saab consortium, it depends also on Boeing."

Ian Mcnamee from BAE Systems mentioned possible ways of cooperation between his company and Aero:

21-03-2002