State Department Greenlights F-35 Sale for Czech Republic

The State Department has OK’d the sale of two dozen F-35As to the Czech Republic, along with 25 Pratt & Whitney F135 engines, aircraft spares, and assorted weapons, including AIM-120 AMRAAMs and AIM-9X Sidewinders, collectively valued at up to $5.62 billion. The Czech Republic joins nine other countries in Europe and 17 worldwide that have selected the F-35 for their combat air forces.

Although greenlighted by the State Department, the sale is not yet a done deal and negotiations on the final package continue. The State Department said there may be industrial offsets as part of the sale. Congress can still object to the transfer, and it wasn’t disclosed when deliveries are expected.

Still, the June 29 announcement marks yet another positive development for the F-35, which has not lost a single competition to other Western fighters in Europe in recent years and is the only fifth-generation Western fighter now being offered.

More than 120 F-35s are flying in Europe today, operated by the U.S., Denmark, Italy, the Netherlands and the U.K., while Belgium, Finland, Germany, Poland, and Switzerland have all selected the fighter and are awaiting deliveries. Spain and Greece are reportedly evaluating the jet as well. Lockheed Martin, which builds the fighter, anticipates that 500 F-35s will be flying in Europe by 2030.

Worldwide, seven other countries are operating the F-35 or have the jet on order.  

Turkey was an original developmental partner on the F-35 and planned to acquire 100 of the jets but was ousted from the program when it moved to acquire S-400 air defense systems from Russia. NATO partners said operating the two systems in close proximity would give Russian personnel in Turkey crucial insights about how to detect and defeat the F-35. Turkey has opted to pursue an indigenous fifth-generation fighter, which resembles the F-35, called the TF-X.      

The Czech Republic announced its choice of the F-35 in June 2022, picking the fighter over Lockheed’s own F-16 Block 70, the Eurofighter Typhoon, and Sweden’s JAS-39E Gripen. The Czech Republic has been operating 14 JAS-39C Gripens under a lease arrangement, and the Swedish government had offered to let it keep the jets if it also bought the E model, but Prague declined to do so. The Gripens will be returned to Sweden in 2027, which may be when the F-35s are expected to arrive.

“Only the most-advanced fifth-generation fighters will be able to meet mission requirements in future battlefields,” Czech defense minister Jana Cernochova said in 2022, announcing the results of the Czech Air Force’s analysis of the offerings and choice of the F-35. Senior Czech officials have also touted the F-35’s networking capabilities and ability to integrate with F-35s in other countries as well as with other advanced NATO combat aircraft. Czech air force officials have also said they expect to operate the jets into the 2050s or later.

The deal approved by the State Department also calls for 86 Raytheon-built GBU-53/B SDB II Stormbreaker Small Diameter Bombs, along with training equipment and inert training rounds; 12 Mk 84 2000-pound penetrator bombs and Boeing KMU556/557 tail kits to turn them into Joint Direct Attack Munitions; 50 Raytheon AIM-9X Block II Sidewinder air-to-air missiles; 10 AIM-9X guidance units; 18 AIM-9X Captive Air Training Missiles (CATMs); and four AIM-9X CATM guidance units, as well as AIM-120 AMRAAM CATMs, among other munitions, training gear and accessories.

Non-kinetic gear to be supplied includes DSU-41B optical target detectors; ALE-70 Radio Frequency Countermeasures Transmitters; Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) gear; electronic warfare data and “Reprogrammable Lab Support;” countermeasures to include chaff and flares; Built-in Test (BIT) reprogramming equipment; contractor logistics support, and various equipment to test and maintain the aircraft, systems and engines, as well as spare and repair parts, software support and other items.

“We are honored the Czech Republic government is interested in the F-35,” a Lockheed spokesperson said. “The choice of 17 nations to lead future fighter fleets, the F-35 is the only fifth-generation fighter offered today, and the only fighter designed to connect the 21st century security battlespace and counter the next generation of threats in Europe well into the 2070s. We will continue to provide the support the U.S. government requires about an acquisition with the Czech Republic.”

The Czech F-35s would likely be serviced in Italy’s airframe depot and the Netherlands’ F135 engine depot.