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Hungary amends Gripen A/B order to latest C/D variants

GÁBOR SZEKERES / BUDAPEST

Hungary has asked Sweden to change its Saab/BAE Systems Gripen A/B lease deal to the latest C/D variants. If the terms of the contract can be altered, the fighters are likely to be delivered later than planned, which may require further upgrades of Hungary's RSK MiG-29 Fulcrums.

Hungarian defence minister Ferenc Juhászm says an agreement has been reached to alter the deal. FMV, the Swedish Defence Materiel Administration, says the proposed change was recently discussed in Sweden and Budapest.

Hungary signed a 10-year, 14-aircraft $490 million lease last November, with deliveries from the third quarter of 2004. FMV adds that a revised contract has not been signed and that Hungary plans to continue with the original lease if a modified deal is not concluded. The Swedish air force received its first JAS39C last month (Flight International, 10-16 September).

Juhászm says the change will mean deliveries later than planned. Sources in Budapest suggest the modification could also increase the price by 10-15%, although discussions have also included reducing annual payments.

Hungary had planned to retire its MiG-29s in 2005, after the Gripens entered service. RSK is putting 14 of the 27 MiG-29s through a life extension to 2005, but a solution is needed to provide capability during any delay to service entry.

Russia, meanwhile, has reportedly offered to exchange Hungary's MiG-29As for SMT-standard fighters. This would give Hungary a fleet of around 40 Gripen and MiG-29 fighters, enough for home defence and NATO commitments.

The Czech government, which was due to buy 24 Gripens, is, meanwhile, facing increased pressure to conclude a fighter acquisition, as the air force's Mikoyan MiG-21 service lives are due to expire in the first half of 2004.

One solution is to acquire two batches of 12 aircraft. The first would be delivered to replace the MiG-21s, while the others would be delivered five to 10 years later.

Unofficially, Lockheed Martin, backed by the US government, is promoting new or used F-16s from Belgian or US stocks. Used F-16s could cost CKr20 billion ($641 million) - a third of the cost of new Gripens.

Additional reporting by Ryzsard Jaxa-Malakowski in Warsaw

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