Defence ministers of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have agreed to try to harmonise their fighter-procurement programmes.

According to Hungarian defence minister Gyorgy Keleti, the countries have agreed on closer co-operation in armed-forces development and will pay "special attention to the procurement of fighter aircraft".

A meeting of air force chiefs of staff is expected soon to begin drawing up details of how the three Central European countries - which have been invited to join NATO - will co-ordinate efforts already under way to acquire Western fighters.

Harmonisation of the fighter- procurement programmes is expected to delay the issue of requests for tenders, the first of which had been expected to emerge by the year's end. Sources close to the competition believe the countries want to model their eventual co-operation on the four-nation programme under which Lockheed Martin F-16s were acquired by Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.

Lockheed Martin, which is offering the F-16 in competition with the Dassault Mirage 2000-5, McDonnell Douglas F-18 and Saab JAS 39 Gripen, says that co-ordinating the three countries' fighter procurements "-makes tremendous economic sense".

Senior Polish industrial sources express scepticism at the plan, however, pointing out that the three countries' requirements differ, as does the urgency with which they need their aircraft. Sources in the Polish defence ministry add that the decision on a joint purchase is not yet finalised.

The Czech Republic and Hungary each want about 30 aircraft, while Poland wants as many as 100 aircraft.

Some sources also doubt that all three states will choose the same combat aircraft because of the desire of each to establish its national independence. This will militate against a joint purchase.

Source: Flight International