WARSAW, Poland — The Czech government has decided to launch negotiations with the United States to buy 24 F-35 Lightning II fighter jets for the country’s Air Force.

The aircraft are to replace the 14 Saab JAS 39 Gripens currently operated by the Czech military, making the country the second Eastern European ally after Poland to order Lockheed Martin’s fighters.

“I was authorised to form an inter-ministerial negotiating team and commence negotiations with the United States government to procure 24 units of the F-35 Lightning II multirole fighters to equip two squadrons,” Czech Defense Minister Jana Černochová said in a statement.

Prague will continue to lease the Gripen C/D jets until the end of 2027 when the contract expires.

“Our decision to select this option is based on the analysis by the Czech Armed Forces, which clearly articulates that only the most advanced 5th-generation fighters will be able to meet mission requirements in future battlefields,” Černochová said.

The value of the potential deal was not disclosed by the Czech ministry.

In January 2020, Polish National Defence Minister Mariusz Blaszczak signed a contract worth some $4.6 billion under which Poland’s Air Force will acquire 32 F-35A Lightning II jets along with a training and logistics package. Warsaw aims to replace its outdated Soviet-designed Sukhoi Su-22 and Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters with the fifth-generation jets. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2024.

Jaroslaw Adamowski is the Poland correspondent for Defense News.

More In Europe