The Czech government approved the deal for the acquisition of 24 F-35s that will replace Gripens from 2035. In the meanwhile, the Romanian MoD submitted the plan for the purchase of 32 F-35s to the Parliament for approval.
In a statement released on Sept. 27, 2023, the Czech Ministry of Defense announced the government’s approval for the acquisition of 24 F-35A Lightning II fighters in a deal worth 150 billion crowns ($6.47 billion). The United States’ State Department approved the possible Foreign Military Sale of the F-35s, munitions and related equipment in June.
The aircraft are expected to be delivered from 2031 to 2035, while training of the pilots will begin in 2029. The MoD statement mentioned “the existing Gripens will do their great job until 2035, by which time we will gradually ensure a full transition to the F-35 system”, hinting at the extension of the lease of the 14 Gripens in service which currently ends in 2027. According to some sources, the F-35 might also replace the L-159 Alca.
“It is an effective solution, because the benefit of the capabilities of this system during its lifetime is significantly higher compared to the money we will pay than when purchasing another type of aircraft,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala. “All real experts agree that 5th generation aircraft will solve the future of our tactical air force for decades to come, in contrast to lower generations of fighter aircraft”.
The announcement was met by extensive criticism regarding the need by Czechia for 5th gen fighters and the overall costs for the acquisition and infrastructures. The MoD responded to the critics mentioned that the new aircraft will considerably boost the capabilities of the armed forces and allow to better integrate alongside NATO allies.
Also, the MoD stated that industrial cooperation was one of the conditions set for the agreement of the F-35 deal. The are 14 industrial cooperation projects ready for Czech companies in less than a year, including the possibility of direct involvement in the global supply chain for F-35 aircraft, according to the MoD, but other opportunities are also being looked at for the future.
In the meanwhile, the Romanian Ministry of Defense confirmed the plans for the acquisition of 32 F-35s that was announced in April and mentioned that the deal has been submitted to the Parliament to start the acquisition process this year. This is considered the country’s most expensive military purchase ever, worth $6.5 billion.
The deal is one of the consequences of the increase of the defence spending to 2.5% of gross domestic product this year, in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (with whom Romania shares a 650km border). However, this is only the first phase, as Romania eventually expects to buy another batch of 16 F-35s later on, replacing on a one-to-one basis the 17 F-16s, acquired from Portugal, currently in service and the 32 F-16s, recently acquired from Norway, whose deliveries are expected to start this year.
The US State Department has not yet approved the possible FMS program, however it approved the modernization of the recently acquired F-16s, which have a remaining service life of ten years. The Romanian armed forces hope to have the F-35 operational in the 2030s as the F-16s exhaust their remaining service life.