“It’s a turning point”: Czechs and US ink huge F-35s agreement

Jana Černochová and Bijan Sabet

Czechia has just signed an agreement with the United States to buy two dozen F-35 advanced fighter jets. The procurement is seen as significantly boosting the Czechs’ military capabilities and integration with NATO and represents the largest defence contract ever signed by the country.

On Monday morning the Czech minister of defence, Jana Černochová, and the US ambassador to Prague, Bijan Sabet, put pens to paper on a memorandum of understanding on the biggest defence contract signed by Czechia in its history.

Under the deal, rubberstamped by the Prague government last September, Czechia is set to receive 24 fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jets at a cost of CZK 150 billion crowns.

The first of those planes, produced by the company Lockheed Martin, is due to arrive on Czech territory in 2031; the remainder should be in place within the next four years.

Karel Řehka | Photo: Václav Šálek,  ČTK

The chief of the General Staff of the Czech Army, Karel Řehka, told Czech Television it was a red letter day.

“It’s a turning point. Because for us it is the only plane that ensures that we remain relevant on the battlefield in the longer term, for instance past 2040. And I don’t take it as a project for our air force – this is a transformative project for the whole army.”

Defence Minister Černochová said the intergovernmental agreement inked on Monday had brought both Czechia itself and the country’s army into a brand new era.

For his part, US Ambassador Sabet said it was 25 years since Czechia had joined NATO and now it had become part of a growing band of 18 countries – including 10 in Europe – relying on F-35s to ensure their security.

The Czech Army’s Lieutenant General Řehka said though the deal had only been signed on Monday, preparations to take possession of the aircraft were well underway.

“We’re basically going full out already. We have created a complex plan of implementation with a team from across the Ministry of Defence. It’s comprised of sub-teams looking at all aspects: IT, security, building infrastructure, staff and training.”

Czech pilots will initially train on the F-35A Lightning II jets in the US. The highly advanced planes boast technology that allows them to locate and track enemy forces, jam radars and disrupt attacks.

F-35 Lightning II | Photo: Zuzana Jarolímková,  iROZHLAS.cz

They will gradually replace the Czech Army’s leased Swedish-made Gripen supersonic jets, which were first acquired in 2005.

The total cost of acquiring and operating the F-35s until the end of their service life in 2069 is estimated by the Ministry of Defence at CZK 322 billion.

The procurement comes against a backdrop of increased Czech spending on defence in general, in part in response to Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Author: Ian Willoughby | Source: Česká televize
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