© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter jet is seen in its hanger at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland October 28, 2015. REUTERS/Gary Cameron
PRAGUE (Reuters) -The Czech government agreed on Wednesday to open talks with the United States on supplies of the F-35 Lightning II fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp (NYSE:) to replace leased Gripen fighters from Sweden’s Saab AB, Prime Minister Petr Fiala said.
The NATO member country will also lead talks to buy fighting vehicles from a Swedish subsidiary of BAE Systems (OTC:) after cancelling a tender for the supplies.
“This is another step to modernise the army and meet our alliance commitments,” Fiala told a news conference shown live on television.
“These are important decisions at a time when the security of Europe and the Czech Republic faces new challenges caused by Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
Defence Minister Jana Cernochova said the country wanted 24 F-35s, and talks should be concluded by October next year.
The country now has 14 Swedish-made Gripen jets under a leasing agreement until 2027. Lockheed Martin said in June it could deliver the first F-35 fighter jets to Czech neighbour Germany in 2026, and expected more orders for the aircraft in Europe including possibly Greece and the Czech Republic.
The U.S. Department of Defense agreed with Lockheed Martin to build about 375 F-35 fighter jets over three years, the two parties said on Monday.
The Czech government also cancelled a long-dragging $2.6 billion tender for around 210 tracked fighting vehicles which included BAE Systems, General Dynamics (NYSE:) and Rheinmetall.
It will instead talk to the Swedish government on deliveries of the CV-90, Cernochova said, referring to armoured vehicles made by a Swedish subsidiary of BAE Systems.