Croatia is the only NATO country that still has that Soviet fighter active

From MiG-21 to Dassault Rafale: the first of the new fighters of the Croatian Air Force

The air forces of NATO countries that operated Soviet material are undergoing an important renewal process.

A flight of a French Rafale fighter in Denmark demonstrating its extreme maneuverability
A Croatian Air Force MiG-21UMD fighter crashes during training

An example of this is the Croatian Air Force. After its turbulent independence process, the Croatian Armed Forces were formed with much material from the former Yugoslavian Armed Forces. However, this was not the case in aviation. During the Yugoslav wars, the Croatian Air Force acquired 40 MiG-21s from former Soviet republics. Of them, 24 were used as active fighters and the other 16 as sources of spare parts.

One of the MiG-21UMD of the Croatian Air Force (Photo: Robert Erenstein/

In 1993 and 1994, when Croatia bought these fighters, the MiG-21 was already an obsolete model. This aircraft made its first flight in 1955 and entered service in 1958. In 1990 Russia had already retired all its MiG-21s from service, but these aircraft remained in service in other air forces that could not afford better aircraft, including some countries that ended up joining NATO: Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and Romania. Croatia is the only NATO country that still has its MiG-21s in active service, specifically 11 units of the MiG-21bisD (single-seat) and MiG-21UMD (two-seat) models.

As of May 2021, Croatia announced the purchase of 12 second-hand Rafale C/B F3-R fighters from France (specifically, 10 single-seat Rafale C and 2 two-seat Rafale B for training conversion), for an amount of 999 million euros. Deliveries of these aircraft are expected to begin in 2024, but a few days ago Runway28 published a video of the first Croatian Rafale with insignia of that country. It is a two-seater Rafale B that was seen at the French Saint Dizier air base on September 14:

As we see in the video, this first Croatian Rafale has a drawing of a helmet on its nose, very similar to the one that appears on the shield of the 1/7 Provence Fighter Squadron of the French Air Force. The Croatian cockade has been placed behind the canard planes, while the national coat of arms of Croatia has been painted on the drift, with a checkered background. All this in a low visibility scheme. The plane number is 171.


Main photo: Armée de l’Air et de l'Espace.

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