“Given the worsening security situation,” Prague says, it must bolster air forces now.
The Czech Republic aims to buy 24 F-35 Lightning II stealth aircraft to replace their present fleet of 14 Gripen fighter jets, according to the defense ministry, in the latest step by Prague to fast transition to NATO-standard weapons in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Defense Minister Jana Cernochova revealed that she has been given the authority to negotiate the acquisition of two dozen Lockheed Martin-produced fifth-generation jets, which cost around $80 million each in the present US Air Force deal, though it is unclear what unit price Prague would receive.
Questions regarding the announced purchase were directed to the US government, but Lockheed officials stated, “We will provide any support the US government requires in conversations about an acquisition.”
Prague wants to finalize the purchase fast “since lead times for new aircraft take years,” the ministry said in a statement issued immediately before the arrival of Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the United States National Guard and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Cernochova stated that Prague rents 14 JAS-39C/D Gripen fighters from Sweden under a deal that would expire in 2027. Sweden offered to let Prague keep the plane for free, but the ministry chose the F-35 instead.
According to Maj. Gen. Karel Rehka, the Czech Republic’s chief of general staff, the F-35 will remain “a highly competitive aircraft even in 2040, whereas the so-called fourth-generation-plus fighters will have become outdated by then.”
“We are pleased that the Czech government selected the F-35 fighter, which will defend Czech and allied airspace for decades to come,” U.S. embassy chargé d’affaires Michael J. Dodman told Defense One in Prague.
Aside from the newest fighter, Prague wants to double the size of its air fleet because “the current quantity of supersonic fighters no longer meets the current tasking, and given the worsening security situation, the volume of performed missions will continue to grow,” according to the ministry’s announcement of the planned purchase.
Prague’s decision to buy the F-35 is the latest in a series of major wins for jet, including recent announcements by Canada, Finland, Switzerland and Germany. Lockheed Martin deferred questions about the potential sale to the US and Czech governments but heralded the announcement in a statement.
“We are honored the Czech Republic government is interested in the F-35, and we will provide any support the U.S. government requires in discussions about an acquisition,” the company said. “We are confident the F-35 delivers unmatched value as the most capable and lowest life-cycle cost aircraft, while delivering the strongest long-term industrial and economic opportunities compared to any fighter on the market.”
In addition to starting negotiations for F-35s, the Czech Republic canceled a tender for new infantry fighting vehicles after “after two of the three bidders declined to accept new terms and conditions,” the Czech ministry of defense said in a statement. Instead, it will start negotiations with Sweden on the acquisition of CV90 vehicles, which it hopes to co-produce them domestically.
Prague also declared plans to buy CV90 combat vehicles from Sweden, which is not a NATO member but is a member of the European Union.
Because the F-35 and CV90 are already in service with NATO and EU allies, “modernization will deepen cooperation and bring down maintenance [costs],” according to the ministry.