Cabinet approves purchase of fighter jets without public tender


Following three years of negotiations on the biggest military purchase in the Czech Republic's history -a fleet of supersonic fighter jets to replace the Air Force's aging MiG 21s - the government is back to square one. Having cancelled earlier plans to buy 24 supersonic Gripen fighter jets from the British Swedish consortium BAE Systems and Saab due to a mounting budget deficit, the Cabinet has said it intends to purchase 14 used planes and invited nine countries to present their offers. There is one major difference - this time the purchase won't have to go through public tender.

In view of mounting public debt the Czech Republic is having to make concessions in securing its air defence - instead of 24 new planes it will have to make do with 14 - and instead of brand new fighter jets it now wants to buy second-hand. The government justifies its decision not to hold a public tender for the deal by arguing that whole process would take too long. The country's aging fleet of MiG 21s needs to be replaced by 2005, and the Cabinet wants to clinch the deal by the end of this year. The nine countries invited to put in a bid have until the end of October to do so. Meanwhile the Cabinet is to set up a special commission to assess the offers. The defence, finance and foreign ministries will all be represented, but the presence of other ministries on the commission has not been ruled out.

Among the countries interested are Belgium, Turkey, the United States, Canada and France. Great Britain has allegedly decided not to offer its Tornado jets.