Czech Republic to Establish Regional F-35 Training Center

USAF F-35 Demo Team, during its display at NATO Days in Ostrava, 2023. (All images credit: Jacek Siminski/The Aviationist)

With the establishment of the center, the Czech Republic has the opportunity to become a Central European training hub for the F-35.

Lockheed Martin is considering setting up a training center for F-35 pilots in the Czech city of Pardubice, marking a significant development for the region, Czech E15 media outlet reported. Notably, many European countries are progressing with their procurement of the F-35. With its wide user base, the Lightning II is destined to remain the most widely deployed fifth-generation fighter aircraft globally, following the footsteps of the F-16 in the fourth generation.

As Billie Flynn mentioned in an interview with The Aviationist last year, the F-35 is poised to play a pivotal role akin to previous-generation fighters like the F-104 and F-4. The F-16, serving as the NATO standard in the fourth generation, has seen over 4,700 units built to date, with Lockheed Martin continuing production. The total number of F-16s built is expected to surpass 5,000 ultimately.

The Czech Republic has committed to procuring 24 F-35s, with the Polish Air Force, the country’s neighbour, planning to operate 32 such aircraft. Germany is also set to follow suit, with 35 jets, forming a robust Central European user group.

Lockheed Martin, in partnership with Czech compnay LOM Praha, is making strides toward establishing a European F-35 training center in Pardubice, east of Prague, Czech Republic.

Czech F-35
USAF F-35 Demo Team, during its display at NATO Days in Ostrava, 2023.

In late May, LOM and Lockheed Martin signed a cooperation agreement, which includes plans to modernize the Pardubice aviation training center. This facility would become a training ground for European pilots aspiring to fly the F-35, complementing the IFTS facility, dedicated to the advanced training of pilots destined to 4th and 5th gen., located at Decimomannu Air Base, in Sardinia.

Jiří Protiva, the head of LOM Praha, noted that the May agreement, with a business potential of one billion CZK (37.5 million EUR or 43.5M USD), has enabled the Czech Republic to take the next steps. Lockheed Martin is expected to dispatch its representatives to the Czech Republic soon to finalize the details.

A similar agreement involving LOM has been reached concerning the H1 helicopters procured by Prague. Here, LOM has signed a deal with Bell to provide service and repairs, with LOM’s VR Group overseeing the H-1 simulator located at the 22nd airbase.

The company will assemble a team comprising pilot training experts, specialists in confidential information, and auditors. The Czech Republic will establish a counterpart team to collaborate with the Americans and formulate an action plan.

US involvement will also enable the Czechs to assess whether additional assets or systems are required at Pardubice to fully enhance the center’s capabilities for providing F-35 baseline training.

Protiva expressed the Czechs’ readiness for this initiative to gain momentum, anticipating changes that would elevate training levels and possibly result in the establishment of a regional training facility.

Expansion plans include simulator upgrades to allow pilots to fully utilize the F-35’s capabilities. Live-virtual constructive training, involving pilots in the air and simulator training simultaneously within a single mission scenario, is also expected to take place in Pardubice.

Czech L-39

Training at the new center in Pardubice will commence at the end of 2028, initially focusing on Czech pilots but accommodating foreign pilots in a 75-25 ratio. Initial flight training will utilize “Zlín” Z-142 piston trainers for students aged twenty and older, progressing to the Aero L-39NG, approved by Lockheed Martin as a suitable platform for F-35 training.

The Czech Republic anticipates that the training program will last approximately eighteen months on the L-39NG, after which pilots will undergo further training with U.S.-trained instructors on Czech F-35s and simulators at the 21st Tactical Aviation Airbase in Čáslav, home to both 211st and 212nd tactical squadrons operating the F-35.

Training on the F-35 is demanding, requiring pilots to master advanced cockpit functions, sophisticated communication systems, and sensor suites renowned for their complexity.

Should a NATO country opt to train its pilots in Pardubice on the L-39NG to qualify for the F-35, the costs could reach tens of millions of CZK. Over the coming years, the training center in Pardubice will transform to accommodate F-35 pilots. The first batch of F-35s for the Czech air force is expected around the turn of 2031 and 2032, with all twenty-four jets operational in Čáslav by 2034.

F-35 during a flypast with Czech Air Force Gripens, NATO Days 2023.

Given the significant investments by the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany in the F-35 program, the new European F-35 training center in Pardubice, established by Lockheed Martin in partnership with LOM Praha, could serve as a centralized hub for F-35 training. This would allow European and Central European users to potentially outsource their F-35 training to the Czech Republic, reinforcing regional cooperation and streamlining pilot training efforts across NATO allied countries.

Special thanks to Daniel of Bohemia/@Danny_elMayor (X/Twitter) for insights into the local context.

About Jacek Siminski
Standing contributor for TheAviationist. Aviation photojournalist. Co-Founder of Expert in linguistics, Cold War discourse, Cold War history and policy and media communications.