The Czech Republic has officially signed on to procure the Lockheed Martin F-35 strike fighter, becoming the 18th country to acquire the stealthy fifth-generation type.
Prague signed a letter of offer and acceptance with the US government on 29 January, covering 24 examples of the F-35A conventional take-off and landing variant of the single-engined jet.
“The F-35 system is the only one to meet the mission in future battlefields and guarantee effective defence along with our allies against external aggression if needed,” says Lieutenant General Karel Rehka, chief of general staff of the Czech armed forces.
The F-35 procurement process is scheduled to take 11 years, according to Prague, with the first aircraft arriving in 2031.
Czech defence minister Jana Cernochova on 29 January described fifth-generation aircraft as the “backbone” of the NATO military alliance.
“This government-to-government agreement brings our country and its armed forces into a whole new era,” Cernochova says. “[The] procurement will significantly increase combat readiness of the Czech armed forces.”
The Czech air force currently operates 12 Saab Gripen C multi-role fighters, Cirium data shows.
“The Swedish Gripen fighters in the Czech air force inventory will have performed their mission by 2035, when the F-35 system will reach its full operational capability,” the Czech defence ministry says.
Prague says there are “intensive negotiations” under way with Sweden to keep the Gripens operational through that time period.
The formalising of the Czech Republic’s F-35 programme comes just days after Greece received approval from the US Department of State on a request by Athens to purchase 40 F-35As.
As part of the Czech order, an industrial agreement between Washington and Prague will see 13 Czech companies and universities assist airframer Lockheed and engine producer Pratt & Whitney on component manufacturing, research and development, pilot training and F-35 maintenance and servicing.
The partnerships are projected to generate $667 million (Kc15.3 billion) of local activity for the Czech economy, according to Prague.
Lockheed says the Czech F-35s will be delivered in the forthcoming Block 4 configuration.
Still under development, Block 4 is intended to deliver significant improvements to the type’s weapons capability, communications and onboard sensors.
Development of those improvements hinges upon the certification of a new flight computer and operating software, known as Technology Refresh 3 (TR-3).
Despite the pause on deliveries, the airframer has continued running its Fort Worth production line at full rate, recently completing assembly on the 1,000th example of the advanced combat jet.
Lockheed says it has delivered more than 990 F-35s to customers around the world.
The company projects there will be more than 10 European operators flying over 600 F-35s by the mid-2030s, including two US Air Force squadrons based at RAF Lakenheath in the UK.