In recent years, the overseas arms giant has succeeded in gradually reducing the purchase price of the most modern battleship of today. The astronomical sum of over 220 million dollars (almost five and a quarter billion crowns at today’s exchange rate) for the first series-produced F-35 was managed to be pushed below the threshold of eighty million dollars (1.9 billion crowns). However, other manufactured machines will become more expensive again, the price will rise again. Edward Smith, Lockheed Martin’s director of F-35 business development, told DefenseNews.
He explained the turnaround in price development by the smaller number of ordered aircraft, the consequences of the covid-19 pandemic and further technical improvements to the machines, which will be able to carry more weapons or better recognize targets. “When you improve the plane, the price will go up a little,” the server quotes Smith, who did not specify the rate of increase. According to military analyst Jiří Vojáček, the increase could be at the level of ten to fifteen percent, so one fighter would cost roughly one hundred million dollars (almost 2.4 billion crowns).
“However, such an amount only applies to countries with already built infrastructure, i.e. the United States and, apparently, Great Britain as well. After the price increase, the Czechia would pay 160 to 175 million (3.7 to 4.1 billion crowns) instead of 150 million dollars per plane (3.5 billion crowns). Until now, further discounting was generally expected,” states Vojáček, referring to the latest purchases by Finland, Poland and Switzerland. That is, countries that should be in the same position as export customers as the Czechia.
For example, Switzerland concluded a contract for the purchase of 36 F-35 fighter jets in mid-September this year, paying over six billion Swiss francs (152 billion crowns) for them. Thus, the total procurement costs for the Czech Republic would increase by more than fourteen billion crowns to one hundred billion against the original assumptions. The amount also includes the costs of modifying air bases, training pilots and ground personnel or security measures.
“Negotiations are currently underway on the possible parameters for the acquisition, production, delivery and operation of aircraft. Of course, costs are also a subject of negotiations. The Czech government will decide on the possible acquisition of the aircraft after October 2023. We will not specify anything further for now,” the Ministry of Defense said. The Department of Minister Jana Černochová (ODS) did not respond to questions about how high the purchase price for one aircraft is for the Czechia to negotiate with the American counterparty and whether it would accept a possible price increase.
Despite the significant amount, the purchase price is not the biggest issue with the F-35’s competitiveness. This is the operating cost. “They are many times higher than the Eurofighter Typhoon or F-15 machines. It is estimated that an F-35 flight hour now costs 35 thousand dollars (830 thousand crowns),” says Vojáček.
The F-35 has the most powerful engine ever installed in a fighter jet, and the result is high fuel consumption. The manufacturer states that it aims to reduce costs to $25,000 per hour. “Even that is several times more than Gripens (four to five thousand dollars per hour) or typhoons (up to $20 thousand),” adds Vojáček.
If the Czechia were to actually purchase the aircraft, it would receive, among other things, contracts for the domestic industry as part of the consideration. Enterprises could participate, among other things, in the production of the F-35 or F-16, as Gregory Day of Lockheed Martin stated in an interview with the E15 newspaper. Billion orders would also generate the necessary infrastructure investments; the Czech side would have already paid you. This would involve modifications to hangars or runways at the base in Čáslav.
Besides aircraft stands, weapons and fuel depots, most of the investment would go into a new runway and security. The systems of today’s most modern fighter, the F-35, contain over eight million lines of code – the most in history – which must not fall into unauthorized hands. This results in extreme requirements for ensuring safety in hangars.
The Czechia has an existing squadron of 14 JAS-39 Gripen machines on lease from Sweden until 2027 with the possibility of a two-year option. The Ministry of Defense mentions several reasons why the Gripens should be replaced by the F-35, referring to the analysis of the Czech army.
“Each such aircraft represents a flying command center. It is a combination of a fighter aircraft, an element of air defense, a top intelligence and communications workplace. At the same time, it is part of a wide network of the Internet of machines, including unmanned vehicles, and therefore can perform tasks that are completely beyond the capabilities of today’s technology,” the ministry says.
The Czechia would thus share the same technology with the United States, Poland and a number of other allies, which would mean easier cooperation in procuring spare parts, training and sharing service capacities. “It can be expected that in the coming years the F-35 aircraft will become a standard within NATO, which means that most of the alliance countries will acquire it,” the ministry adds.
Lockheed Martin claims that by the end of the decade, more than 550 F-35s are expected to cruise European skies. However, it is uncertain whether this will happen due to the shortening of orders by some customers.