July 14, 2024

Czech PM Petr Fiala says purchase of US-made F-35 fighter jets tells military allies ‘that they can count on us’.

The Czech government has approved a plan to buy 24 US-made F-35 advanced fighter jets in a deal valued at approximately $6.5bn, the largest defence contract ever signed by the Czech Republic that will see the country significantly boost its military capabilities and integration with NATO.

Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala told reporters on Wednesday that the first of the supersonic stealth fighters would arrive by 2031 and the country’s military would have all 24 planes at its disposal by 2035.

“The first F-35s will be ready in 2029 and our pilots will start training with them in the United States then,” Fiala said.

Fiala said the F-35s “will solve the future of our tactical air forces for dozens of years to come”.

“For our defence, it is important to boost our ties with NATO allies,” he said.

In acquiring F-35s, “we are telling our allies that we take the defence of our country seriously and that they can count on us”, he said in a statement on social media.

“In comparing the capabilities of the aircraft and their service life with the price, there is no better solution for fulfilling the tasks of the tactical air force of the Army of the Czech Republic for the next decades,” he added.

State broadcaster Radio Prague International said the purchase of the F-35s “will be the biggest defence contract ever signed by [The Czech Republic]”.

The US State Department approved the sale of F-35 jets, munitions and related equipment to the Czech Republic in June amid the country’s plans to replace 14 leased JAS-39 Gripen fighter jets from Sweden that are currently used by the Czech army.

Czech Defence Minister Jana Cernochova said the state will pay 150 billion Czech crowns ($6.47bn) for the aircraft by 2034, a bill that includes the cost of the aircraft, training of pilots, ammunition, upgrades to the Caslav air force base in central Czech Republic and fuel.

A member of the European Union and NATO with a population of some 10.5 million people, the Czech Republic has provided substantial military aid to Ukraine since Russia’s invasion, including aircraft, tanks, howitzer artillery, armoured vehicles and ammunition.

In exchange for its military aid to Kyiv, Prague has received German-made Leopard tanks and financial compensation from the US and the EU.

Chief of the general staff of the Czech armed forces Lieutenant General Karel Rehka said that the new jets would ensure “that in the case of need, we’ll manage to effectively defend ourselves against aggression, together with our allies”.

The announcement of the F-35 deal comes as the Czech government plans to spend two percent of its gross domestic product on defence, in line with its NATO pledge.

Produced by Lockheed Martin and equipped with anti-detection stealth technology, F-35s are used across NATO, but also by Australia, Japan, Israel and South Korea. Other countries including neutral Switzerland have also signed deals to buy the planes, which were launched in 2006.

The US government’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in June that the F-35s would “improve the Czech Republic’s defence capabilities as well as support NATO operations by guarding against modern threats and maintaining a constant presence in the region”.

The Czech army recently bought US-made Viper combat helicopters and Venom multi-purpose helicopters, replacing obsolete Russian-made Mi-24 helicopters, some of which it has sent to Ukraine.

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