Czechs pressure Sweden on extending jet fighter lease
PRAGUE, July 25
PRAGUE, July 25 (Reuters) - The Czech government will start looking for a new provider of fighter jets unless Sweden improves its offer to extend a lease of its Gripen fighters now used by the air force, the Czech prime minister said on Wednesday.
The Czechs' lease of 14 Gripens, made by Saab, runs out in 2014 and the central European country is under pressure to find a cheap replacement or an extension, as the army budget shrinks.
But the NATO member's Prime Minister Petr Necas said on Wednesday the Czechs would prepare a tender to pick a different supplier unless Sweden improves its offer by November.
"If this, for me surprisingly unwelcoming, attitude persists ... we will go ahead with an open tender and the Gripens will either stay or not," Necas told a news conference after the cabinet discussed the latest Swedish proposal.
The government did not give details on the offer. Daily Pravo reported Sweden had offered a small discount to the current price of around 2 billion crowns per year.
The Czechs leased the Gripens in 2004 for 10 years and about 19.6 billion crowns, or $927.89 million under the current exchange rate.
The government is seeking to extend the lease by several years, pending a decision on the long-term future of its air force. ($1 = 21.1233 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Jan Lopatka; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)