Gabor Szekeres/BUDAPEST

McDONNELL DOUGLAS has joined the competition for the Hungarian air force's multi-role-fighter requirement, with a demonstration of its F-18 Hornet to senior defence officials at the Kecskemet Air Force base.

The F-18D was taken on a ten-day tour of Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland. The three eastern-European countries are all looking for early membership of NATO and they are also in the process of making fighter-aircraft selections.

The demonstration at Keckemet air base included giving a 30min ride in the F-18's back seat to Hungary's minister of defence, Gyorgy Keleti, as well as to other high-ranking air force and defence officials.

Although MDC is late into the competition, the company has until mid-1997 to prepare a full bid, for what will be up to two squadrons of aircraft. Invitations to tender were scheduled to be issued earlier, but have been postponed pending a decision over Hungary's future membership of NATO. The aim is to introduce the aircraft into service in around the year 2000.

The F-18 is seen as among the front-runners to fulfil the Hungarian requirement for a multi-mission capability, covering air defence, ground attack and reconnaissance. Twin engines are also seen as an advantage.

MDC has yet to reveal its offer over the decisive issue of a financial offset package, but is understood to have made extensive contacts with Hungarian industry about potential work.

Among the other aircraft which have already entered the fray, the Saab JAS39 Gripen is among the front-runners, satisfying the multi-mission capability requirement, and also providing a modern airframe - seen as important, given that the aircraft will have to serve well into the next century.

The Swedish aircraft manufacturer is also understood to be offering an attractive financing package. Critics of the Gripen, however, have questioned the aircraft's lack of service experience, as well as the availability of a suitable weapons system.

Lockheed Martin, offering the F-16, is expected to offer Hungary a similar deal to that presented to the Polish air force, giving three different options, including older F-16A/Bs, updated A/Bs and brand-new block 50/52 C/D aircraft. There are concerns within Hungary, however, over the aircraft's multi-mission capability and its age.

The Dassault Aviation Mirage 2000-5, which was also scheduled to make an appearance at Kecskemet at the end of August, remains an outside contender.

Source: Flight International