By Igor Salinger in Belgrade

The Croatian government has forwarded a proposal to parliament covering the development of the nation's armed forces between 2006 and 2015, with the new document detailing procurement and modernisation priorities and organisational reform.

Croatia wants to field a smaller, professional military by 2015, with this to have NATO-compatible equipment and command structures and up to 26,000 personnel, including civilian staff and reserves. The government believes this force will enable Croatia to increase its involvement in international peacekeeping operations and to meet a goal of achieving full NATO membership. The new proposal outlines an investment worth €2 billion ($2.5 billion) by 2015, including €470 million to be spent on the Croatian air force.

One of Zagreb's leading procurement ambitions is to select by 2009 a replacement for its air force's eight MiG-21bisD and four MiG-21UMD fighters, which were upgraded by Romania's Aerostar in 2003. Lead contenders for the 12-aircraft requirement are the Gripen International-promoted Saab Gripen and refurbished Lockheed Martin F-16s, with the selected type to be fully operational by 2015.

Gripen International demonstrated its fighter to Croatian officials in May, and company officials hope the type's earlier selection by the Czech Republic and Hungary could boost its prospects through the potential to provide joint training and maintenance in central Europe. To support the new fighter procurement, four basic trainers are to be acquired by late 2007 to replace Utva 75s now used at the air force academy in Zadar.

Croatia's helicopter force will be strengthened with the delivery of 10 new Mil Mi-171Sh transport helicopters from early 2007 and the planned modernisation of two Mi-8MTV1s in 2008. Seven unserviceable Mi-24 assault helicopters will be retired. The second stage of an Antonov An-32B upgrade is, meanwhile, scheduled for completion next year.

Source: Flight International