Dumping Russian MiG-21s, Croatia Is The Latest Among Seven Nations To Acquire French Rafale Fighters

The French Rafale has become an export champion: It has now been acquired by the Air Forces of seven nations, including India and the UAE. Over the years, the jet has created a formidable reputation for being one of the most dominating multi-role fighters.

Croatia has announced that it has officially got formal ownership of the Dassault Rafale combat aircraft ordered from France. This was announced by the Croatian Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The milestone was revealed on February 23, with Croatia taking ownership of the first six Rafales of a total order of 12. The Ministry also published a photo featuring the six Rafale fighter jets.

The journey towards this acquisition began in May 2021 when Croatia selected the Rafale to replace its aging fleet of MiG-21s.

Following extensive negotiations, a deal worth EUR 1.15 billion (USD 1.21 billion) was inked in November 2021, paving the way for the acquisition process. Payments for the procurement are scheduled to span from 2021 to 2026.

Credits: The Ministry of Defence of the Republic of Croatia

The handover ceremony for the first Rafale took place in early October 2023 at the French Air and Space Force base in Mont-de-Marsan, marking the formal beginning of Croatia’s transition to the advanced fighter jet. With the ownership of the initial six aircraft confirmed, Croatia is poised to further bolster its defense capabilities.

The 12 Rafale aircraft, including 10 single-seaters and two twin-seaters, are surplus units from the French Air and Space Force, all upgraded to the F3-R standard.

The Rafale is outfitted with cutting-edge attack-navigation systems, a new generation electronic radar featuring high sensor integration and self-protection systems. Additionally, it boasts of the capability to employ a diverse array of air-to-air and air-to-surface weapons.

Alongside the aircraft, Croatia will also receive simulators, training programs, and ongoing support services until late 2026. This will facilitate the smooth integration and operation of the new assets.

The delivery of all 12 Rafales is expected to be completed by 2025, and it will position Croatia’s Air Force and Air Defence for enhanced operational readiness and effectiveness.

With plans to operate the Rafale until the early 2050s, Croatia is making strategic investments to safeguard its national security and position it as a “credible NATO partner.”

Rafale Fighter Jet’s Export Success 

Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, a stalwart of France’s military arsenal for over two decades, has not only proven its mettle in domestic operations but has also emerged as a coveted asset on the global stage, securing a string of impressive international sales.

Introduced into service over 20 years ago, the Rafale has amassed a formidable reputation through its involvement in successful combat missions in regions such as Afghanistan and Mali. Despite its domestic success, the aircraft initially struggled to find buyers.

However, the tide turned dramatically in 2015 when Egypt made a groundbreaking announcement, signaling its intent to purchase 24 Rafales. That landmark deal was swiftly followed by Qatar’s commitment to acquire the same number of aircraft, marking a turning point in Rafale’s export journey.

Egypt’s acquisition, comprising a mix of 16 Bs and eight Cs, saw deliveries commencing in 2015. The subsequent order for an additional 30 Rafales in 2021 underscored Egypt’s confidence in the aircraft’s performance.

Qatar, as Dassault’s second export customer, not only fulfilled its original order but expanded it by 12 additional aircraft in a 2017 deal. Deliveries to the Qatar Emiri Air Force began in February 2019. Qatar also retains an option to potentially double its Rafale fleet in the future.

India, after a complex procurement process, opted for 36 Rafales in a “flyaway” condition in 2016, shifting from the original plan of a 126-aircraft acquisition through the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) program.

In 2023, the Indian Government also announced plans to acquire 26 Rafale aircraft to equip the Indian Navy with the latest-generation fighter.

Greece, another discerning export buyer, signed an agreement for 18 Rafales in January 2021, later expanding the deal in March 2022 to include six additional aircraft, bringing the total to 24.

Photo courtesy: Croatian Air Force

Perhaps the crowning achievement for Dassault came in December 2021, with the UAE announcing a monumental 80-unit order valued at €16 billion ($17.5 billion).

The deal, effective from April 2022, includes deliveries of F4-standard aircraft scheduled between 2027 and 2031, accompanied by an extensive armaments package worth approximately €2 billion, with MBDA as the primary provider.

In 2022, Indonesia announced plans to acquire 42 Rafale aircraft for its Air Force. This decision not only solidified Jakarta as the first Southeast Asian country to procure the jet but also contributed to making Indonesia Dassault’s seventh export customer for the Rafale.