Czech defence ministry proposes extending warplane lease
PRAGUE, Sept 11
PRAGUE, Sept 11 (Reuters) - The Czech Republic has tentatively negotiated an extension of the lease of Gripen fighter airplanes from Sweden for up to 14 years, securing the NATO member-state's air defence needs, Defence Minister Vlastimil Picek said on Wednesday.
He said the defence ministry would prepare an amendment to the existing contract by December and the final decision would be made by a new cabinet to be formed after an election on Oct. 25-26.
Picek said negotiators had agreed a discount of 32 percent for the lease of the 14 Saab-made planes, on a 10-year contract from 2004 that was valued at 19.6 billion crowns ($1.01 billion).
"Should somebody think the plane will be out of date after 14 years, on the contrary, it will be only in the middle of its lifespan in 2029," Picek told journalists.
Facing a shrinking military budget, the Czechs said in July they would look for a new supplier of fighter jets if a deal with Sweden could not be reached.
The Czech Republic has been slashing its military spending to around a half of NATO's recommended 2 percent of GDP.
In the political debate on whether to extend the lease, some had proposed giving up supersonic military aircraft altogether.
The planes' equipment will be upgraded to include not only air-to-air but also air-to-ground combat capabilities, Picek said. ($1 = 19.4113 Czech crowns) (Reporting by Robert Muller; writing by Jan Lopatka; editing by Andrew Roche)
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