U.S. Urges 3 NATO Countries to Buy U.S. Fighters

The U.S. government expressed disappointment with the Czech Republic and Hungary for their December moves toward acquiring non-American-made fighter jets. The rare public criticism of U.S. NATO allies comes as Poland also considers purchasing new fighter jets for its air force.

Speaking December 18, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said that the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland—all of which joined NATO in 1999—should not jeopardize more urgent military needs and reforms necessary for the three countries to work more effectively with NATO’s other 16 members by purchasing advanced fighter jets, which can cost up to tens of millions of dollars apiece.

But Boucher continued by saying, “If you’re going to buy [combat aircraft], buy American.” Adding that “we think we make the best,” he said that Secretary of State Colin Powell “has raised the interest of American companies in selling airplanes” during meetings with officials from the three countries.

The State Department’s public rebuke preceded Hungary’s December 20 signing of a deal to lease 14 JAS-39 Gripen fighters, which are co-manufactured by Sweden and Britain. The Czech Republic also moved closer in December to negotiating a contract for 24 Gripens, although the Czech parliament, which includes opponents of the deal, will have to approve it.

For its part, Poland is looking at an immediate lease of 16 fighters with a longer-term plan for a force totaling 60 new jets. In addition to the Gripen, Poland is considering the U.S. F-16 fighter or the French Mirage 2000-5 combat aircraft.

A U.S. defense official said that the United States will present a “very, very attractive offer” to Poland and that Washington will be more than willing to address any concerns Warsaw may have. The official said the U.S. interest in getting the sale—if Poland insists on buying aircraft—is for NATO members to possess arms that are combat proven and fully compatible with U.S. weapons systems. Although makers of the Gripen contend the plane will be NATO compatible, the defense official said that is easier said than done.

The Pentagon estimated in June that a sale of 60 U.S. F-16 fighters to Poland would cost $4.3 billion. This price tag includes missiles and bombs to arm the aircraft as well as U.S. training.