THE CZECH DEFENCE ministry is to push ahead with a contentious upgrade for at least 24 of its Mikoyan MiG-21 Fishbed fighter aircraft, despite objections that it is a waste of scarce resources.

The ministry is expecting to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for an upgrade of 24 of its MiG-21s at the end of April.

Sources close to the project say that the RFP is to be given to jet-trainer manufacturer Aero Vodochody, regional-turboprop producer Let Kunovice and the Prague-based LOK and LOM aircraft-repair works.

Talks are under way between these companies and Israel's Elbit, Israel Aircraft Industries, Sextant of France and Rockwell from the USA. All are potential partners in the $60 million programme.

Defence officials say that the ministry is proceeding as far as it can with the programme while it awaits parliamentary approval.

The officials stress, however, that the go-ahead is by no means guaranteed, as there is strong opposition to the idea on the grounds that the MiG-21 is too old to be upgraded.

Some opponents still favour the purchase of an aircraft such as the Lockheed F-16, which would require both the approval of a reluctant US Administration and money, which the ministry does not have.

According to sources in Prague, the ministry is likely to push for maximum commonality with the recently approved Aero Vodochody L-159 light-attack-aircraft project, "particularly in the areas of radar, electronic warfare, navigation and identification friend-or-foe [IFF]".

The L-159 will be fitted with a FIAR Grifo-L multi-mode pulse-Doppler radar, Western-made electronic-warfare and navigation equipment - including a Honeywell H-764G inertial/ satellite-navigation system - and an AlliedSignal AN/APX-100 IFF transponder.

The upgraded MiGs will be able to carry an as-yet-unspecified medium-range air-to-air missile, along with other Western and Eastern weapons systems.

Other elements of the upgrade include a differential global-positioning-system landing system, radar-warning receiver, multi-function displays and a stand-by fuel system.

Source: Flight International