The U.S. government has cleared the sale of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jet to Poland, which is set to become the thirteenth foreign military customer to join the program.
The State Department announced Wednesday that Poland was approved to receive 32 Lockheed Martin-made F-35A Lightning II aircraft with support and associated equipment, for an estimated cost of $6.5 billion.
"The sale of the F-35A Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to Poland will provide a key NATO ally with the world's most advanced fighter aircraft, improve its ability to provide collective and self-defense, and reduce its dependence on legacy Russian equipment," a State Department official said in a Defense Security Cooperation Agency release.
The F-35 will "contribute to Poland's goal of modernizing its military capabilities while further enhancing interoperability with the United States, NATO members, and other allies," the official added.
Poland formally requested to buy F-35s in May. The following month, a Marine Corps F-35B conducted a flyover above White House as President Donald Trump and Polish president Andrzej Duda watched on. The event underscored the United States' willingness to work with Poland on replacing its Sukhoi Su-22 and MiG-29 fleets with American-made 5th-generation fighters.
"This is a significant step in the acquisition process and towards meeting Poland's goal of having their first aircraft delivered by 2024," Lockheed spokesman Mike Friedman said in a statement. "The F-35 will bring fifth-gen capability to the Polish Air Force providing unmatched lethality, survivability and connectivity to the Polish Armed Forces and enabling advanced interoperability with other NATO F-35 operators."
In August, a group of Republican senators urged the Defense Department to expand the U.S.-led F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program with additional foreign sales to create a stronger coalition of allies.
In a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Aug. 6, Republican Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania said the U.S. would benefit by having more F-35s on flight lines around the world.
The lawmakers' call for expansion came shortly after the Pentagon lost one of its F-35 NATO partner nations.
The Defense Department officially booted Turkey from participating in the program in July because of its recent purchase of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air-missile systems.
Counting Turkey, Poland would become the thirteenth FMS customer. Despite Turkey's formal removal from the F-35 program, the Pentagon has provided a gradual acquisition off-ramp for the country. The plan is to cancel contracts with Turkey by early 2020.
-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @oriana0214.