The US State Department has given 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 $5.62 billion.
On June 29, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the Pentagon informed Congress about the potential sale. The main defense companies involved as contractors for this deal are Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and Boeing.
As part of the proposed deal, the Czech Republic would receive advanced fifth-generation fighter jets and accompanying components such as engines, air-to-air missiles, bombs, Sidewinder missiles, communications equipment, and necessary support systems.
DSCA mentioned that Prague has officially requested 24 F-35 fighter jets in the conventional take-off and landing configuration.
In addition to the aircraft, the Czech Republic seeks to acquire 25 Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines, 70 AIM-120C-8 advanced medium-range air-to-air missiles, and 86 StormBreaker all-up rounds.
The request also comprised 12 Mk-84 general-purpose bombs, 12 KMU-556/KMU-557 Joint Direct Attack Munition tail kits, and 50 AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles.
According to a statement released by the State Department, the sale of F-35 fighter jets and related equipment to Prague will augment the country’s defense capabilities.
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.
While the approval by the State Department is a significant step, the notification does not imply the immediate signing of a contract or the conclusion of negotiations.
The package for selling fighter jets and related equipment is subject to congressional approval. This means that before the deal can be finalized, it needs to go through the legislative process and receive the necessary authorization from the US Congress.
However, according to Bloomberg, the process of receiving approval may take years to complete.
F-35 Stealth Fighters Eclipse Saab Gripens
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.
At the time, Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová explained that the decision to choose the F-35 fighter jets was driven by an analysis conducted by the Czech Armed Forces.
The analysis concluded that only advanced fifth-generation fighters, like the F-35, would meet the future mission requirements in modern battlefields.
Earlier this year, reports emerged indicating that the Czech government is considering extending the lease of its JAS-39 Gripen fighter fleet until 2035.
This decision comes amid concerns that Lockheed Martin may not be able to deliver the F-35s before the current contract ends in 2029 (if the two-year extension option is exercised).
A May report from the US Government Accountability Office also highlighted ongoing challenges with the F-35 program, including schedule delays, cost increases, and late deliveries.
The report suggested that Congress should consider managing engine modernization as a separate program within the F-35 program.
In June 2022, given the Czech government’s strong inclination towards acquiring two squadrons of American F-35 fighter jets, the Swedish ambassador to the Czech Republic, Fredrik Jörgensen, reportedly made an offer suggesting that Czechia could retain the leased Gripens from Sweden at “zero cost.”
During an interview, Ambassador Jörgensen expressed the possibility of allowing the Czech Republic to keep the Gripens without financial obligations.
However, the Swedish offer was tied to the Czech Republic’s procurement of the Gripen E. As part of the proposal, the 14 currently leased Gripen C/D jets would be transferred to the Czech Air Force at a nominal or zero cost and undergo modernization, provided that Prague also proceeded to purchase an additional squadron of the Gripen E model.
This arrangement enabled the Czech Republic to significantly bolster its air power at an affordable expense while also serving Saab’s interest in retaining the customer instead of losing them to US defense giant Lockheed Martin.
But, the Czech Ministry of Defense has a clear preference for their next fighter aircraft, and it is unlikely that the conditions negotiated for extending the Gripen lease with Stockholm will include anything for free.
That being said, if the sale is successfully completed, the Czech Republic will become the latest addition to a group of other European countries that have chosen the F-35 as their next-generation combat air force aircraft.