Ukraine War ‘Sky Rockets’ F-35 Sales; Romania, Czech Republic Join The ‘Mad Rush’ For US Stealth Fighters

After months of deliberations, the Czech Ministry of Defense announced on September 27 that it had finally approved a deal with the US government and Lockheed Martin to purchase 24 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.

In late June this year, the US State Department gave the green light for the Czech Republic to acquire F-35 fighter jets, munitions, and associated equipment in a deal estimated to be worth up to US$5.62 billion.

At the time, the DSCA mentioned that Prague had officially requested 24 F-35 fighter jets in the conventional take-off and landing configuration. In its latest announcement, the Czech defense ministry expects all aircraft to arrive by 2035. However, the delivery date for the first jet appears to be unclear.

The Czech announcement also hinted at an industrial offset that talks about the potential for the state’s industry to participate in the F-35’s global supply chain. It is expected to contribute to the overall security of NATO operations by protecting against modern threats and maintaining a continuous presence in the region.

In July 2022, the Czech government announced its intention to acquire Lockheed Martin’s F-35 jets to replace the leased Gripen fighters that Sweden’s Saab AB provided. Although Lockheed’s F-16 Viper and Saab Gripens were offered to the country, the government defended its choice with the fifth-generation fighter, citing factors including the F-35A’s less expensive price tag than the Gripen E.

However, the Czech Republic is not alone in going the F-35 way. Several countries worldwide have either expressed their intention to buy the fifth-generation fighter jet or have already signed deals. All purchases across Europe and among NATO countries have been attributed to the security threat posed by Russia.

Moreover, the demand for the F-35 Lightning II jet has continued to rise despite the problems incurred by the aircraft, including unprecedented crashes, supply chain hurdles, limited infrastructures at the production centers, delayed engine-overhaul programs, as well as an array of difficulties associated with its maintenance and upkeep even in the United States.

The F-35 aircraft has, nevertheless, witnessed a remarkable proliferation across European nations and, to a certain extent, in the Indo-Pacific region. The 5th-generation fighter F-35 is now in more significant demand by the US Air Force and American allies worldwide for its formidable combination of stealth, advanced sensors, and weapons systems.

The US defense giant and manufacturer of the aircraft Lockheed Martin anticipates that by 2030, Europe will be home to roughly 550 F-35s, including squadrons of the US Air Force stationed at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.

This surge in sales could likely be attributed to the exceptional degree of interoperability that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter offers to allies and partners, particularly within the framework of NATO. The aircraft has proven essential to NATO missions like Baltic Air Policing that aims to deter Moscow.

Additionally, the aircraft’s assured upgrade roadmap and the political heft enjoyed by the United States over other countries are believed to be other important factors contributing to this wave of success.

A continent beset with a 19-month war has triggered a wave of military modernization, increased defense budgets, and new procurement of advanced weapon systems. Additionally, the jet’s arrival in Europe was perfectly timed since many countries were eager to update their fleets by the decade’s end.

Europe Is Lining Up For F-35s

Just a few days before Prague’s announcement, Romania’s defense ministry formally sought parliamentary approval to acquire 32 F-35 fighter jets from the United States at an estimated cost of approximately US$6.5 billion.

Like Prague, the decision to buy these advanced American fighters with stealth capabilities was taken by the Supreme Council of Defense of the Country (CSAT) back in April, much earlier than Romania announced it.

The most significant and rather unexpected purchase was undoubtedly made by Germany when it announced in December last year that it had decided to buy 35 F-35 fighter jets from the United States, a package pegged at $8.4 billion.

The German Air Force is looking to replace its aging Tornado fighters with the fifth-generation F-35 stealth aircraft. The purchase was made after a long period of hesitation, which eventually came off in March, days after Russia launched the invasion of Ukraine in late February.

“It is an honor to welcome Germany to the F-35 Lightning II Program formally,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin said at the time. “Germany’s participation ensures the F-35 European alliance continues to strengthen and grow through interoperability with NATO and ally nations.”

File Image: F-35 Lightning II

Another big order was placed by a US ally in North America. In January this year, the Canadian government announced buying 88 F-35 stealth fighter jets in a US$14.2 billion deal. A news release published by the government said the first of these jets would enter service by 2026, and the deliveries would be complete by 2033-2034.

In addition to these nations, the list of European F-35 customers includes Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Among the European countries contemplating a purchase is Greece, which intends to buy at least 20 F-35s.

To replace its fleet of Russian-origin aircraft, Poland, the neighbor of the Czech Republic, also agreed to purchase 32 F-35A Lightning II aircraft for US$4.6 billion in January 2020. The contract included training and logistical support.

Once deliveries to Romania, the Czech Republic, and Poland are completed, there will be a total of 156 F-35s flying in Russia’s neighborhood.

The plane’s exclusivity as the sole fifth-generation multirole fighter available to the United States and its allies is the basis for these sales to European countries. F-35s will never go to Ukraine since that would be akin to an open declaration of war. However, they are proliferating in Europe, and Moscow seems responsible.