In anticipation of the upcoming official agreement for Croatia’s acquisition of 12 F-16C/D aircraft, the Israeli Air Force (IAF) sent three F-16D Block 30 jets on visit to Croatia. The three aircraft were serials 023, 041 and 063, all from 109 ‘The Valley’ Squadron at Ramat David. The deal is scheduled to be signed later this year during an official visit to Croatia by Israel’s prime minister.
At the end of March, Croatia decided to acquire 12 used F-16C/D Block 30 Barak (lightning) fighters from Israel as replacement for its 12 ageing MiG-21 fighters. These are operated by the Eskadrila Borbenih Aviona (EBA, Combat Aircraft Squadron) at Zagreb International Airport (also known as Pleso) – the sole fighter unit of the Hrvatsko Ratno Zrakoplovstvo (HRZ, Croatian Air Force).
In April, HRZ representatives paid an official visit to Ramat David Air Base in Israel – home to three IAF squadrons operating F-16C/Ds, where HRZ personnel will likely train on the type. During this visit, the former EBA commander Lt Col Željko Ninić had a chance to fly in the rear cockpit of two-seat F-16D Barak 041 on April 9.
Trip to Zagreb
Covering a distance of around 1,865 miles (3,000km) during a four-hour non-stop flight that also included aerial refuelling from an IAF Boeing 707 Re’em tanker, the three F-16Ds arrived in Croatia on August 2. Two-seat MiG-21UMD serial 166 of the EBA escorted them to Pleso where they touched down at approximately 15.00hrs local time and were welcomed by HRZ colleagues, as well as high-ranking military and government officials. C-130H Karnaf serial 435 of 131 Squadron from Nevatim Air Base preceded them on August 1, bringing ground crews and support equipment.
This was the first IAF visit to Croatia and a perfect opportunity for EBA pilots to get acquainted with their future mounts. Furthermore, the Ramat David AB commander that led the visit had a chance to fly aboard MiG-21UMD serial 166 on August 3, with Lt Col Christian Jagodić (the current EBA commander) in the front cockpit. The jet flew as a pair with single-seat MiG-21bisD serial 133.
The finale of the visit came on August 5 – during their return trip, two of the F-16Ds (serials 041 and 063) flew in a four-ship with HRZ MiG-21bisD serials 116 and 133 during a flypast over the city of Knin – part of an official celebration of the 23rd anniversary of Croatia’s victory in the Homeland War (1991-95).
The HRZ is expected to receive its first two ex-Israeli F-16s by mid-2020 – in time for them to take part in the flypast for the 25th anniversary. It was also revealed that the aircraft would probably receive new names in HRZ service – the F-16C is expected to be named Oluja (storm) while the F-16D will be Blijesak (flash) – codenames of two of the Croatian armed forces’ most successful military operations during the final stages of the Homeland War in 1995. Vladimir Trendafilovski