The Croatian government has decided to purchase 12 second-hand Rafale F3-R fighter planes from France to boost the country’s Air Force, said Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković.

“The purchase of the multirole fighter aircraft will strengthen Croatia’s position as a member of NATO and a partner within the European Union. For the first time, we will reach 2 percent of the GDP allocated to strengthening our defense capabilities,” said Plenković.

The deal worth $1.2 billion (€999 million) is in addition to the purchase of aircraft, and covers weapon systems, spare parts, logistics and training.

The purchase marks the second NATO country to select the French 4th generation fighter jet after Greece. The interoperability between aircraft will enable the NATO ally to become even stronger, and boost Croatia’s defensive capabilities, ensuring peace in the neighborhood. Croatia needs these fighters for continued protection of its airspace.

As part of the agreement, France is scheduled to deliver the first six twin-engine fighter jets in 2024 and supply the balance 6 jets in the following year. The delivered aircraft will include 10 single-seater and two twin-seater fighter jets.

The Rafael had to fight against the US F-16, Sweden’s JAS-39 Gripen C/D fighter jets, and F-16C/D Block 30 aircraft from Israel, to win the contract.

Following the acquisition, the Croatian Air Force will replace its legacy Mikoyan MiG-21 fighters with these modern aerial flying machines.

In 2018, the country’s Ministry of Defense had announced its intention to purchase second hand Israeli F-16s; but in the next year, the government scrapped that decision and re-launched the tender, citing U.S. government accusations of Israel dealing in unfair competition to win the tender.