Six Rafale jets land in Velika Gorica

ZAGREB, 25 April (Hina) – The first six out of a total of 12 Rafale multi-purpose combat aircraft landed in Croatia on Thursday.

The pilots were greeted at Pleso airport in Velika Gorica, just south of Zagreb, by members of the Croatian state leadership, including President Zoran Milanović, Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, and Parliament Speaker Gordan Jandroković .

The Rafales took off from the airbase at Bordeaux and entered Croatian airspace west of Rovinj. Above Zagreb, they arrived in formation in two groups of three aircraft. The flight lasted an hour and 40 minutes. They were flown in by Croatian pilots who had been training for their use for 15 months.

Upon entering Croatian airspace, the Croatian Air Force pilots sent a message to all Croatian citizens: “We are now entering Croatian airspace, which will be even safer from today. The Croatian Rafale and Croatian pilots have arrived home,” the Ministry of Defense announced.

“The arrival of new combat aircraft represents a significant step towards the modernization and strengthening of the Croatian Air Force in air defense and is a key factor in preserving Croatia’s security in the future, as well as enhancing the overall combat capability of the Croatian Armed Forces. It also symbolizes the strong cooperation between Croatia and NATO in jointly preserving peace, stability, and security,” the statement added.

The aircraft arrived two years and five months after the signing of a contract worth over one billion euros with France. The last of the contracted aircraft are expected to arrive at the beginning of next year.

At Pleso, a ceremonial program is planned for the arrival of the new Croatian combat aircraft, including a flyover by the Wings of Storm aerobatics display team.

In addition to the president, prime minister, and parliament speaker, the ceremony will be addressed by Croatian Air Force Commander Michael Križanec, Chief of the General Staff Tihomir Kundid, representative of Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the aircraft, Richard Lavaud, French Ambassador Fabien Guillaume Edmond Fieschi, and Defense Minister Ivan Anušić.

The decision to purchase Rafale fighter jets was made by the government on 28 May 2021, when the Ministry of Defense was tasked with taking all necessary steps to conclude the contract between Croatia and France. The contract was signed on 25 November of the same year by the then Minister of Defense, Mario Banožić, and French Minister of Defense Florence Parly, during the official visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to Croatia.

The handover of the first Rafale aircraft took place on 2 October last year at the French Air Force base in Mont-de-Marsan. By the end of this year, eight aircraft are expected to be in Croatia, with the remaining four aircraft expected by the end of the first quarter of 2025.

A total of €1.13 billion has been allocated from the state budget for the purchase of the Rafale aircraft from 2021 to 2026. Approximately €225 million has been earmarked for this year, €65 million for the next, while around €18 million will be allocated from the 2026 budget.

The agreement between Croatia and France also includes military cooperation, joint air force exercises, and the training of Croatian pilots and technical personnel. To date, about 90 members of the Croatian armed forces with various specialties have completed the Rafale training program, according to the Ministry of Defense.