The war in Ukraine against Russian aggressors has fueled military expansion and arms deals around the world. Lockheed Martin is one of the defense companies reaping from this unfortunate event, having secured another sale, the time, with two European countries for its venerable F-35 Lightning II fighter jet.
The Czech Republic officially joined the “stealth” club after successfully procuring the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II last week. According to news reports, the Czech Ministry of Defense (MoD) has earlier sent a letter of request to the American manufacturer stating details to kickstart the transaction negotiations amid the increasing popularity of stealth fighters in European countries.
“The Czech government has authorized the MoD to negotiate the acquisition of aircraft following the expiring lease of 14 Swedish Gripen aircraft,” the MoD said, adding that “[h]anding over the letter [of intent] is a necessary prerequisite for further negotiations for the American side.”
In June, Czech Prime Minister Piotr Fiala initially announced its decision to purchase the American-made F-35 about four months after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. By August, its government had appointed an interdepartmental negotiating team to work alongside US experts on the deal in September. According to the Czech MoD, specifics and other details regarding the before and after purchase, including aircraft operations and maintenance, will be discussed sometime this month.
Prague is expected to receive its F-35s beginning in 2024—however, it will continue to use its Swedish fleet until the lease on the Gripen C/D aircraft expires at the end of 2027.
The Czech Republic announced its interest in the F-35. As the #F35 continues to grow as the foundation of NATO and European alliance’s next generation of air power, it will ensure national security for decades to come.
— F-35 Lightning II (@thef35) July 20, 2022
The Gripen and the F-35 share many common characteristics, such as low-cost designs and advanced avionics. However, both have distinct capabilities, like the F-35 emphasizing its radar-evading stealth profile, which the Gripen lacks, making the latter more vulnerable. In addition, because the American-made stealth fighters are part of a more extensive program, they are far more cost-effective than the Gripen and other European jets, which typically come from smaller production lines. This is because most of its investments are ensured, funding its research and future improvements more stable than the latter. Moreover, spare parts for the F-35s are also easier to obtain than the Gripens, which remain relatively rare.
With what’s been going over Ukraine, most East European countries have now weighed their options on whether they would continue their arms deal with Russia or move away by entering the West market. Poland, which notably shares a border with Ukraine, has bolstered its air defense by shifting its aircraft fleet to American stealth fighters.
The deal was first introduced in January 2020 for $4.6 billion, including training and logistical support from the manufacturing company.
Berlin Will Soon Join the Stealth League as Well
Aside from the Czech Republic, Lockheed Martin will soon be moving forward with its F-35 aircraft sale with Germany worth over $8 billion. The deal was first announced in March following Berlin’s year-long plan reversion on ramping up its air defense fleet. The Russian invasion of Ukraine has also played a significant role in tipping the tide in favor of American stealth fighters.
“There is only one response to [Russian President Vladimir] Putin’s aggression: unity within NATO and a credible deterrent,” German Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz said in a statement released earlier this year. “That’s why there is no alternative to the decision in favor of the F-35.”
Then, in July, the US State Department approved the sale with Berlin to support the latter’s nuclear deterrence missions and munitions and related equipment. As a result, the German Air Force will receive its F-35 stealth fighters sometime in 2030, replacing its aging Panavia Aircraft (PA)-200 Tornado aircraft fleet. The twin-engine multirole combat aircraft was also previously operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF), Italian Air Force, and Royal Saudi Air Force during the 1991 Gulf War, which took on low-altitude strike missions. It also saw action during the wars in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Libya and played smaller roles in the fighting in Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria.
Germany and the Czech Republic are but two of several European nations that chose US-made stealth fighters to replace their fleet. F-35s European customers include Belgium, Denmark, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Lockheed Martin has also earned big contracts from Canada, Finland, and Switzerland, amounting to around $59.5 billion, $9.4 billion, and $5.5 billion, respectively. Furthermore, Greece and other non-NATO members expressed interest in procuring the revered fighter jets and are expected to follow soon after.
Outside Europe, countries like Australia, Israel, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore are also in the stealth league. Meanwhile, Turkey had almost made it to the elite club, having to receive its initial four aircraft in 2018, before then-US President Donald Trump removed Ankara from the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program when it began accepting deliveries of the Russian-made S-400 in 2019. The contract was then canceled, with the four Turkish F-35s being withheld and seized a year after.