Swedish press: Czech fighter jet nearly hits another aircraft during exercise

Gripen fighters, photo: www.army.cz

Reports came from Sweden that a Czech air force's fighter jet seriously threatened another aircraft during a joint military exercise last week. The exercise nearly ended in tragedy, when a Czech pilot aimed at the wrong target using live ammunition, only narrowly missing another aircraft in the exercise.

Some 20 pilots and 60 technicians from the Caslav base returned on Thursday from a 9-day long military exercise titled North Arrow in Sweden where they practiced live missile and cannon firings for the first time since the Czech military acquired a fleet of Swedish Gripen fighters. Czech military officials described the exercise as successful, however the Swedish media reported on Sunday that one of the Czech Gripens hit the wrong target in mid-air, only narrowly missing another plane. Czech Radio 1's correspondent in Sweden Tomas Sniegon explains what happened.

"The Czech Gripen missed its target by nearly 600 metres and only luckily did not hit the aircraft which towed an unmanned target. A Swedish military official said it was most likely a mistake, yet the military considers the incident as serious and the exercise was halted immediately afterwards. A civilian Lear Jet towed two aerial targets, one live, 600 metres away, and a backup, just 15 metres behind. The Czech pilot probably misunderstood which target to fire at. It is yet unclear whether it was his error or a mistake in the instructions."

The civilian jet hired by the Swedish military was flying at the speed of 500 kilometres per hour when the Czech pilot hit the backup target just behind its tail. An investigation into the incident is meant to prevent such things from happening again but reportedly, none of the Czech participants faces any repercussions.

The Czech government approved the lease of 14 Gripen fighters from Sweden in June 2004 at a cost of around 20 billion crowns. The leasing contracts also include offset programmes of Swedish investment into the Czech economy. The Czech Air Force took delivery of the supersonic jets, replacing an aging fleet of Soviet MiG-21s, in mid-last year.