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The Czech Republic officially joined the Lockheed Martin-led F-35 fifth-generation fighter programme on 29 January 2024 when the Czech government signed a letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) for 24 F-35s under the US Foreign Military Sales mechanism. Procurement of the aircraft was authorised by the Czech government in September 2023.

The Czech Air Force will receive 24 conventional take-off and landing F-35As in the latest advanced Block 4 configuration, deliveries of which will begin in 2031.

“With the signing of the letter of offer and acceptance between the Czech Republic and US governments, the Czech Republic becomes the 18th nation to join the global F-35 programme,” Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager for the F-35 programme, was quoted as saying in a company press release. “We are honoured to partner with the Czech Republic Air Force as its F-35s join other European nations in strengthening and growing interoperability, significantly increasing NATO’s deterrent capability.”

The Czech Republic has secured an industrial co-operation package as part of its F-35 procurement. The Czech Ministry of Defence (MoD) stated on its website on 29 January, “There are 11 projects prepared with Lockheed Martin and three projects with Pratt & Whitney in the aggregate value of CZK 15.3 billion (EUR 620 million). Those will see the participation of 13 Czech enterprises and universities involved in four areas: manufacture of components, research and development, pilot training and maintenance, [and] F-35 maintenance and servicing.”

A US Air Force F-35A assigned to the 158th Fighter Wing, Vermont National Guard, taxis at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, on 9 June 2023 in preparation for Exercise ‘Air Defender 23’. With the Czech Republic joining the F-35 club, Lockheed Martin has said that, by the 2030s, more than 600 F-35s will be operating in Europe. (Photo: USAF)

The Czech Air Force currently operates a fast jet fleet consisting of 14 leased Saab Gripen C/Ds (12 Cs and two Ds). Saab had sought to persuade the Czechs to acquire Gripen E/Fs before they ultimately opted for the F-35.

“The Swedish Gipen 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 MoD stated. “There are intensive negotiations underway with the Kingdom of Sweden on the operation of the Gripens in the given timeframe.”

Lockheed Martin noted in its press release that by the 2030s more than 600 F-35s will be operating in Europe, including aircraft from more than 10 European countries and two full US F-35 squadrons stationed at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the UK.