Saab/BAE Systems has secured its second export deal and first NATO customer for the Gripen multirole fighter with Hungary's signing of a lease for 14 aircraft.

Swedish defence minister Björn von Sydow and his Hungarian counterpart Dr János Szabó signed a memorandum of understanding on 23 November for a 10-year lease of 12 single-seat and two twin-seat Gripens. An offset deal will be signed next month. The lease includes weapons and is worth around $490 million.

The first Gripen will be handed over in the third quarter of 2004, with the single squadron due to become operational the following year. The unit will be based at Kescskemét in eastern Hungary, home to the air force's RSKMiG-29 squadron. Saab will upgrade the Gripens to NATO standards, with initial pilot and technician training provided by the Swedish air force.

Meanwhile, the Czech Government is due to decide by the end of this month whether it will continue with its fighter acquisition. Dassault and US manufacturers withdrew from the competition leaving the Gripen as the only contender. The government could decide to begin talks with Saab/BAE or postpone a decision.

Source: Flight International