Prague, July 2 (CTK) – The Czech Gripen fighters have covered over 21,300 flight hours during their eleven years of service in the Czech air force so far, and they will be soon modernised to become capable of attacking ground targets, officials from the military and the Defence Ministry have told CTK.
On July 1, eleven years elapsed since the acquisition of the Jas-39 Gripen supersonic planes by the Czech military.
The Czech Republic leased them from their Swedish producer, Saab. They replaced the outdated Soviet-made MiG-21s.
The Czech government decided on a ten-year lease of Gripens worth almost 20 billion crowns in 2004. The planes’ equipment cost another billion crowns.
In 2014, the government approved the extension of the lease until 2027 with a two-year option. The Czech Republic pays an annual 1.7 billion crowns for the lease.
Suspicions of corruption emerged in connection with the deal but no prosecution was launched.
“We have operated the fleet without serious defects or even air accidents. Common technical defects related to the planes’ operation are comparable with those appearing in the other types of planes,” David Kudrna, chief engineer of the military air base in Caslav, central Bohemia, told CTK.
The Czech Gripens have accomplished four foreign missions aimed to protect the airspace of the Baltic Countries and Iceland, and another Icelandic mission is scheduled for this autumn.
The Gripens also annually join international exercises such as Lion Effort, NEW FIP and Ramstein Guard NATO.
Jaroslav Tomana, commander of the Caslav-based 211th tactical squadron, said he considers NATO’s Tiger Meet exercise the most important of all.
By 2018, all Czech Gripens are to get new equipment to make them capable of intervening against ground targets. The government approved the relevant contract worth 427 million crowns, not including VAT, a year ago.
Jan Ondryska, from the Defence Ministry, said the planes’ bomb racks will be replaced with modern ones that are designated to hold ammunition aimed against ground targets.
The planes will also be equipped with new software which will improve their capability of detecting and identifying targets, communication as well as maintenance, Ondryska said.
The cockpits will be adjusted to enable pilots’ night vision, and space for storing foods and beverages will be installed for pilots to use during long-distance flights.
The technical adjustments are being made directly by the planes’ producer, Saab, Ondryska said.