Prague is Joining the European F-35 User Group with 24 Lightning II aircraft.
Czech Republic’s Defence Minister Jana Černochová and U.S. Ambassador Bijan Sabet signed a Memorandum of Understanding between the Czech Republic and the US for the procurement of 24 F-35 Lightning II 5th generation multi-role combat aircraft.
This marks the most significant procurement process ever in the history of the Czech Armed Forces. The Czechs also signed a letter of offer and acceptance, the final step in completing a contract between the governments, the Czech Defense Ministry said. The deal has a value of about 6.6B USD (150B CZK). Almost 5 billion dollars would cover the procurement of aircraft, pilot training, and munitions, while the remainder of the sum would be used to finance an upgrade of the Caslav base in the central Czech Republic so that it can host the F-35.
“We are pleased the government of Czech Republic is now officially a part of the F-35 Lightning II program of record,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Gen. Mike Schmidt, program executive officer, F-35 Joint Program Office. “This partnership with the Czech Ministry of Defense will deliver and sustain the F-35 aircraft for decades, while providing the Czech Air Force with unmatched interoperability and ensuring it has the capability to counter current and future threats.”
Interestingly, Prague also decided to entail industrial cooperation with the procurement. Relevant contracts within that scope were signed last week, as the Czech MoD reports, by the Director General for Industrial Cooperation, Radka Konderlova. As the release issued by the Czech MoD suggests, the procurement would include 11 projects with Lockheed Martin and 3 projects with Pratt & Whitney. The cooperation is to involve 13 Czech companies and academic bodies and covers the following domains: manufacturing of components, R&D, pilot training, and aircraft maintenance. One of two certified F-35 pilot training centers in Europe would be located in the Czech Republic as well.
Following the signing, Chief of the General Staff of the Czech Armed Forces (AČR, Armáda České Republiky), Lieutenant General Karel Řehka stated that the F-35 is a future-proof solution that will also become a guarantor of effective defense against potential external aggression.
The procurement timeline is to last 11 years, and the first Czech F-35s would appear in the Bohemian skies in 2031, with all deliveries expected to be completed by 2035. A comprehensive Implementation Plan is being processed, which defines the method that will be used to introduce the F-35 system into the AČR environment, the Czech MoD reports. This refers to personnel, training, infrastructure, logistics, maintenance, and miscellaneous services that would all allow for a smooth transition to the F-35.
It is expected that the existing Czech Gripen fleet will remain in service by 2035 when they will be fully replaced by the F-35. The Gripens operated by the Czech Air Force are on a lease from Sweden. Slovakia, the Czech neighbor, meanwhile decided to procure the F-16 Block 70s for its air force.
Notably, the F-35 is becoming proliferated across Europe, and the European F-35 user group is growing. Countries in Europe that have already or are planning to procure the Lightning II include Belgium (34 planned), Denmark (27 planned), Finland (64 on order), Germany (35 ordered), Italy (60 F-35A and 30 F-35B ordered), Netherlands (52 ordered), Norway (52 ordered), Poland (32 ordered), Switzerland (36 ordered), the UK (60-80 F-35Bs). Furthermore, last week the US State Department also issued approval on the sale of 40 F-35 jets to Greece. This means that in total, the European air forces, for now, would operate more than 500 F-35s.
The acquisition of F-35s thus aligns with the capabilities of other NATO allies and contributes to interoperability within the alliance. This aspect is crucial for collaborative defense efforts and reinforcement of regional security.