April 5, 2015:
In September 2014 the Czech Republic decided to extend their leasing agreement for Swedish JAS39 C/D Gripen fighter jets for another 12 years. The Czechs have been using JAS39s since a 2004 the leasing agreement for 14 jets began. The lease agreement also covered some hardware modification and software upgrades which will be implemented by the end of 2015. These upgrades are designed to provide the aircraft with capabilities which were not available in 2004 such as Link 16 standard tactical data exchange network and capability to use new air to ground weapons. It should be noted that Czech even got a discount because the new contract is valued 32 percent less than one from 2004.
At the same time the Czech Republic and Slovakia agreed to a new program for joint support of JAS39s. This will bring down maintenance costs and might lead to creating a joint Czech-Slovak JAS39 air unit which will be responsible for protecting the airspace of both countries. Although the Slovakia Air force currently depends mainly on twelve MiG-29s these aircraft are worn out and only 4-6 of them are capable of flying at any time. Thus it appears that Slovakia will buy Gripen fighter jets in near future to solve the problem with their aging MiGs.
The JAS39 manufacturer (SAAB) also announced that it is willing to create a Gripen pilots training center for central Europe in the Czech Republic. This would benefit local current or potential (Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, and the Baltic States) Gripen. Another benefit of all this cooperation is the prospect that, years after the separation of Czechoslovakia into the Czech and Slovak states we are now seeing increasing cooperation between the Czechs and Slovaks. These are two Slavic groups that are neighbors but quite different culturally. The desire for separation of the two was always there but was impossible during the Cold War when Czechoslovakia was occupied by Russian troops. The latest move with the JAS39 could lead to joint purchase of firearms and radar systems. Who knows maybe this will lead to federation again in the future? -Przemysaw Juraszek