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Hungary considers alternatives to Gripens

Hungary does not seem to have the money to buy more Gripen military aircraft to replace its aging MiG-29s and boost flight hours, and possible alternatives under consideration include purchasing cheaper aircraft from the Czech Republic.

The measure would include raising the number of flight hours allowed its existing Gripens or keeping the MiG-29s in service, Defense Minister Imre Szekeres said at an event to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the Hungarian Air Force on Thursday.

Buying another 14 Gripen aircraft (Hungary is currently leasing 14 Gripens in a deal expected to cost about Ft 210 billion by 2016) would cost about Ft 145 billion, and maintenance costs would come to Ft 5 billion a year, money that is not in the budget, Szekeres said. An alternative would be to buy L-159 training jets from the Czech Republic or to increase the flight hours allowed in the leased Gripen aircraft from an annual 160 to 200. Raising the Gripen flight hours would cost about Ft 6 billion per aircraft over the term of the lease, he said. The Air Force could also keep its MiG-29s in service, but this would mean significant costs too, and pilots would have to “unlearn” their training in order to fly the aircraft.

The government has until the end of 2008 to decide how the flight hours of Hungary's military pilots are to be increased, Szekeres said.

Szekeres said the Air Force is overhauling the remaining five of seven Mi-17 helicopters at a cost of Ft 5 billion in 2008 and 2009. The Air Force also uses Mi-8 helicopters, but these are so outdated it would not be cost efficient to overhaul them, he added.

After 2010, the purchase of ten modern carrier helicopters will be necessary. The aircraft will cost about Ft 9 billion a year to keep up.

The Air Force's Mi-24 fighter helicopters, which Hungary uses for its NATO tasks, must also be overhauled, Szekeres said.

He said the Air Force uses the capacity of its An-26 carrier aircraft intensively. But the aircraft can only be operated on the Armed Forces' current missions with big compromises and low efficiency. Buying new aircraft for these tasks could be considered after 2010.

The Armed Forces plan to buy another 140 Mistral anti-aircraft missiles in 2011-2014. (MTI – Econews)