Anonymous airmen say service's position is 'catastrophic' and claim aircraft shortfalls

Croatian air force (HRZ) pilots have launched a political and media campaign warning that their service is in a perilous state and claiming that "Croatia has at its disposal barely 10 airworthy aircraft".

Anonymous officers claimed to local media earlier this month that the "country's safety is at stake" and that the air force's position is "catastrophic". The servicemen added that they hope the "president, parliament and government will see the matter is of strategic interest and begin resolving it".

The media campaign followed a claim by defence minister Zeljka Antunovic that there is "nothing unusual in the HRZ" after reports of a "silent protest" by instructors at the Zadar air force academy. Local reports suggest up to 60 pilots refused to fly on one day last month citing depression as their reason.

The pilots say "Croatia has no [fighters for] air defence during night and low-visibility weather" as Croatia's Mikoyan MiG-21s have no all-weather capability. They also say none of the force's Mil Mi-24Hindshave been operational for the last three years.

The pilots are also concerned that none of the country's Pilatus PC-9 turboprop trainers have been modified to carry weapons, unlike those operated by neighbouring Slovenia. There are similar concerns about the Bell 206 JetRanger helicopter fleet and that a MiG-21 modernisation programme does not include integration of new weapons, restricting the aircraft to Soviet-era missiles and bombs. An initial batch of MiG-21s is being upgraded by Aerostar in Romania.

The air force is also suffering the loss of young pilots to commercial operators, while pay has been cut by 50%, say the pilots.

Much of the Croatian air force's equipment was acquired during a United Nations arms embargo in the mid- to late-1990s, most from former Eastern bloc sources. Croatia also retained some of the Yugoslav air force equipment that was in the country when it declared independence in 1991. Much of this equipment is now understood to be of questionable serviceability.

The Croatian ministry of defence has taken delivery of a fourth Bombardier 415 amphibian for firefighting duties, and taken an option on a fifth aircraft.

Source: Flight International