Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

Daimler-Benz Aerospace (Dasa) is offering to upgrade Polish, Czech and Hungarian MIGMAPO MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter aircraft to a NATO-interoperable standard as a stopgap until each country is in a position to procure the Eurofighter EF2000.

Although the aircraft has so far been considered too expensive for the cashstrapped, ex-Soviet countries, sources close to the programme confirm that Dasa has made formal presentations in all three countries.

This puts Dasa in the unusual position of bidding against Eurofighter partner British Aerospace, which is proposing the Saab JAS39 Gripen for the same requirements.

German defence minister Volker Rühe has also backed the Gripen bid, adding that he believes that the "Partnership for Peace" nations cannot afford the EF2000.

Part of Dasa's proposal is a MiG-29 upgrade to NATO standards, an interim solution until the EF2000 becomes available.

Dasa president Manfred Bischoff says these countries have been been offered four different levels of upgrade options. For Poland the proposal is for Dasa's Manching-based MiG Aircraft Product Support (MAPS) joint venture with MAPO MiG to upgrade the first two aircraft with the remainder of the work undertaken locally, says Dr Helmut Brinda, the head of the new Dasa office opened this month in Warsaw. Manching is also carrying out upgrades and maintenance for the German air force.

According to BAe, Poland has a requirement for 80-100 fighters, with the Czech Republic and Hungary each needing about 24-30. Requests for proposals are expected from Poland and the Czech Republic late this year, with Hungary following in 1999, but any decision is likely to be withheld until the countries' NATO membership is ratified.

Four of the current 16 NATO members have ratified the full expansion of the organisation, with the US Senate expected to vote on the issue in mid-March. The countries themselves also need parliamentary approval to join, with the Czechs expected to vote in June, and the other two countries early in the fourth quarter.

Dasa is responsible for marketing the EF2000 in Europe, where the aircraft is being considered for the Norwegian and Greek fighter requirements. Norway is thought the most likely export prospect.

The Scandinavian country is looking at a two-tranche purchase to replace its Northrop F-5 and Lockheed Martin F-16s. A decision is expected as early as this year.

In Greece, Eurofighter is competing with the Boeing F-15, Dassault Mirage 2000-5 or -9, and F-16 Block 50, or even a more modern version of this type. Eurofighter claims Greece is also wants to buy its aircraft in two batches, eventually replacing its F-5 and McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom fleets.

Source: Flight International