The Czech cabinet decided late on Wednesday to take up Sweden's offer for 14 new JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets to replace the Czech Republic's aging fleet of Mig-21s to be retired at the end of next year. The government followed an earlier recommendation by a commission of experts that had ranked Sweden's offer first among five offers in a government tender. Those included proposals from Belgium, Holland, and the United States, offering modernised F-16 fighter jets which are used by most NATO countries. Following Hungary, the Czech Republic becomes the second NATO country to select Gripens, manufactured by BAE Systems/Saab. A spokesman for the Swedish defence material command said that the financial terms of the contract would depend on whether the Czech government decided to lease the fighter planes for five or 10 years. The first Gripens are expected to be operational in April 2005, with deliveries to the Czech Republic to be concluded by late August of the same year.
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