The Romanian defence ministry is moving toward an acquisition of the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter, officially requesting parliamentary approval for a $6.5 billion purchase of at least 32 aircraft.
Defence minister Angel Tilvar revealed the move on 10 August in an interview with Romanian broadcaster Atena 3, first reported by Romania-Insider.com.
Tilvar says Bucharest is “taking the first step towards equipping the Romanian air force with a state-of-the-art capability, which will give Romania a consolidated status in the security architecture on [NATO’s] eastern flank and in the Black Sea region”.
The funding request submitted by Tilvar’s office to parliament lays out a two-stage plan for the country’s F-35 acquisition; with the first phase covering 32 jets and an additional 16 aircraft in a subsequent second phase.
In total, Bucharest could field three squadrons of the advanced fighter platform. The F-35 will ultimately replace the Lockheed F-16 fighters currently operated by the Romanian air force.
There are currently 17 countries signed on to the F-35 programme, of which 10 are NATO member states. Of the NATO operators, the USA, Italy, the UK, the Netherlands and Norway are already flying the fifth-generation fighter. Canada, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, and Poland are still awaiting delivery.
While it has not yet officially committed, the Czech Republic has also received approval from arms export regulators in Washington to purchase 24 F-35As.
Belgium had been scheduled to receive its first F-35A later this year, but Brussels recently announced it will join the USA in not accepting delivery of the latest version of the single-engined fighter until Lockheed has completed flight certification.
With a backlog of 421 aircraft at the end of June, Lockheed says it takes several years for new F-35 orders to be assembled and delivered to customers. The company aims to be producing 156 jets per year by 2025.
Romanian officials hope to be flying their first F-35 by 2030.