WARSAW, Poland — The Croatian Defense Ministry is planning to acquire drones to set up an unmanned aerial vehicle squadron and purchase at least 18 fighter jets to replace its outdated Soviet-designed aircraft.

"The decision to buy a new fighter jet is not only related to the Ministry of Defense but also the entire state and society," Croatian Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Damir Krstičević told the local paper Jutarnji List. "Such a decision requires a broad social consensus, and the support of all the other entities and institutions that will take part in this process."

The minister said that the Croatian Armed Forces "need to adapt, introduce some new capabilities … due to the rapid changes in the security environment."

The plan to acquire new aircraft was first unveiled in 2015 following a meeting between Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and then Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic. Since then, the project has been lagging due to Croatia’s low military expenditure. However, Zagreb raised its defense budget for 2017 by 9 percent to about 4.4 billion kuna (US $670 million). Moreover, Grabar-Kitarovic has announced that, by the end of this year, the government will present a strategy to increase the country’s military expenditure from 1.23 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017 to 2 percent by 2024.

The two leading contenders for the Croatian fighter jet contract reportedly include Lockheed Martin's F-16 and Saab's JAS-39 Gripen, and considered alternatives comprise France’s Mirage, Israeli Kfir and a variant of the South Korean T-50.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

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