According to local media the Czech Minister of Defense is considering the F-35 to replace the JAS 39 Gripen.
Although nothing has been decided yet (at least officially), it looks like the F-35 is considered among the favorite candidates by the Czech Ministry of Defense for the replacement of the current fleet of JAS-39 C/D Gripen jets.
For a few years discussions have been underway within the Czech MOD to select a fighter that could replace the 14 Gripen fighters currently on lease from the Swedish manufacturer Saab until 2027 (with an option to extend the lease contract to 2029). All the three original options are still on the table: extending the lease and continue with the Gripens; procure the newer Gripen E/F variant; or choose a completely different type.
In case the decision to procure a completely new type of aircraft is made, the candidates would be the the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Lockheed Martin F-35 (as the F-16V offer was dropped by LM to focus on the Lightning II). The latter has often been considered oversized and too expensive for the needs, ambitions and posture of the Czech Republic. However, the situation has changed a lot and, the war underway in Ukraine as well as the significant change in the security situation in Eastern Europe, have allegedly pushed the 5th generation aircraft at the top of the shortlist: while it is the most expensive (not only to procure but also to operate) it is also the most modern aircraft in the world; it could perfectly integrate with current and future NATO weapons systems for the next decades and, if needed, carry nuclear weapons. Moreover, many other European countries, even some which had previously discarded the type, or smaller ones where the F-35 seemed to be too expensive, have opted for the Lightning II stealth aircraft, considering it cost-effective for their needs after extensive evaluations. And, if success in the Old Continent market wasn’t enough, the F-35 continues to win also in the rest of the world.
According to the information obtained by the Czech Echo24 media outlet, “The Air Force has already passed on to the ministry its idea of which aircraft should protect the Czech sky in the coming years. But the decision will be up to the ministry and the government. The Czech Republic will most likely not use the option to purchase previously leased aircraft. In 2027, it will be more than a quarter of a century old machines that will retire within the next decade.”
In such context, “the American F-35 is referred to as the hottest candidate. […] The price would probably be around 85 to 90 million dollars apiece.”
Minister Jana Černochová should come up with the intention of purchasing 24 new fighters during the summer, according to the local daily, even though an official decision could slip to 2023.
Significant interest in the F-35 by the Czech Republic has been confirmed by J.R. McDonald, the vice president of F-35 business development at Lockheed Martin, during a news conference on the opening day of the ILA Berlin Air Show last week, when he said : “Initially we offered both the F-16 Block 70/72 and F-35A, but after evaluating their needs, we have dropped the F-16. As far as we know, the Czech Air Force requirement is for between 18-24 [aircraft]. […] You’ll hear more about it soon”.
Let’s see what happens.