The Czech Republic is considering several options for replacing its air force's obsolete Mikoyan Mig-21s, including 10 to 14 ex-UK Royal Air Force Tornado F3s, as a temporary measure to protect its airspace, says defence minister Jaroslav Tvrdík (Flight International, 22-28 April).

Other possibilities include a purchase of new aircraft, leaving the air defence mission to NATO partners, or not buying any aircraft, he says. But Tvrdík, speaking after a recent meeting with his UK counterpart Geoff Hoon in Prague, said the Czech defence ministry would like to see the country's airspace guarded by "local means".

The Czech Security Council asked Tvrdík to come up with proposals for re-equipping the Czech air force by the end of June. He is due to visit the UK before that deadline for further discussions.

If the Czech Republic decides to purchase used aircraft, but comes to no agreement with the UK, Tvrdík says it could opt for used Lockheed Martin F-16s. The so-called "zero option", under which the country would have no fighters at all after 2005, could mean the Czech air force would buy the US Joint Strike Fighter about five years later.

The option under which Czech airspace would at least temporarily be protected by its NATO allies would be made easier if the US Department of Defense decides to move one of its military air bases from Germany to the Czech Republic.

Prague cancelled a deal for 24 Saab/BAE Systems Gripens in November and has been evaluating offers of used fighters, including Lockheed Martin F-16s from Belgium, Israel and Turkey and Canadian Forces' Boeing CF-18s.

Source: Flight International