A Czech Republic government-to-government foreign military sales (FMS) request for procurement of 24 F-35A Lightning II stealth combat aircraft has been given the go-ahead by Washington. Formal notification of approval was announced by the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) on June 29.
The estimated $5.62 billion FMS proposal includes the 24 aircraft, plus 25 Pratt & Whitney F135-PW-100 engines (24 installed, one spare) and associated weapons and support equipment.
The potential acquisition serves as the Czech Republic’s successor plan for the Army of the Czech Republic’s (ACR) fleet of Saab JAS39 Gripen C/D fighters whose lease runs through October 2027.
The Czech government opted not to extend its Gripen lease, though Saab put forth an offer of its latest-generation Gripen E/F variants as a long-term fighter option.
Instead, the Czech government issued a Request for Information (RFI) to Lockheed Martin regarding its F-35 Lightning II. Prime Minister Petr Fiala announced in June 2022 that the government would be purchasing the F-35 and in October 2022 it submitted a letter of request (LOR) to the U.S. requesting a potential buy of the aircraft.
Prague intends for its F-35 procurement to equip two squadrons of 12 fighters apiece that will be based at Čáslav Air Base.
While just 4-5 years ago the idea of a Czech purchase of the F-35 might have seemed farfetched due to penurious defense investment levels, the situation has since changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine being the primary impetus. The topline defense budget has grown nominally by 17 percent and 27 percent over the course of 2022 and 2023, respectively, while the metric of spending-to-GDP has risen from 1.1 percent in 2018 to 1.5 percent this year.
The additional funding has enabled the Czech Defense Ministry to begin undertaking much-needed modernization projects such as the Gripen fighter replacement, procurement of a pair of additional C-295 airlifters, 12 Bell H-1 helicopters, 62 Titus 6×6 wheeled armored vehicles and 62 CAESAR 155mm self-propelled howitzers.