There are many reasons why European countries spend their money sparingly to buy F-35 stealth aircraft, despite the uncomfortable price and bad reputation.
There are many factors that make the F-35 stealth fighter a popular favorite among European partners and US allies.
On December 10, 2021, Finland announced it would purchase 64 F-35A Lighting II stealth fighters from Lockheed Martin for $11.3 billion to replace its fleet of F/A-18 Hornets. Although the first F-35 stealth planes will not be delivered until 2026, the deal marks Helsinki’s largest military purchase to date and is one of many largest in Europe.
As a non-aligned country, Finland is not a member of NATO, but cooperates with NATO countries. The country is also a member of the European Union (EU). Helsinki was twice at war with the Soviet Union in the twentieth century, but maintains a cooperative relationship with Russia. These two countries share a border more than 1,300km long.
Therefore, the country’s purchase of F-35 stealth aircraft can be seen as a politically colored move. Maybe this country wants to move closer to NATO?
During a visit to the country in October 2021, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that Finland is one of the closest partners of this military alliance. “We share the same values,” said Mr. Stoltenberg.
“The door of NATO remains open” if Finland decides to join, he stressed. Understandably, in the current situation of NATO, adding a member is adding more pressure on Russia.
However, the Finnish people and some of the country’s political leaders have little desire to join NATO. Finland is the fresh European country to buy a US-made fifth-generation stealth fighter and the decision puts it in the group of European militaries that already or will use the aircraft.
Before Finland, the closest customer of the F-35 stealth aircraft was the Swiss. In June 2021, the country aggressively bought 36 F-35A fighters in a deal worth $5.5 billion. Switzerland praised the aircraft as “completely new, extremely powerful and with a comprehensive network system for the protection and monitoring of airspace”.
According to BI, there are many factors that make the F-35 a popular favorite among European partners and US allies. For many in Europe, choosing the F-35 is as much a geopolitical decision as it is a financial one. But this was really a surprise decision by Finland, a country that has traditionally been a non-union.
New F-16 of Sky
Besides Finland and Switzerland, other European countries such as Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Great Britain, the Netherlands are also operating one or more variants of the F-35 stealth aircraft, or awaiting handover of this fighter.
There are 5 countries that are later on the list of “founders” of the F-35 stealth aircraft program (Turkey is also an important partner, but was removed after purchasing the S- 400 air defense system-from Russia).
Greece is also particularly interested in Lockheed Martin’s state-of-the-art fighter, and there have been reports of negotiations between the company even Spanish and Czech officials are also in the race to buy F-35. Recently, on February 2, 2022, Romanian President Klaus Iohannis also expressed his intention to buy F-35 stealth aircraft.
There are many factors that make the F-35 stealth aircraft preferred by European partners and US allies.
First of all, the stealthy F-35 is a fifth-generation multirole fighter aircraft, focused on air superiority (air-to-air) and attack (air-to-ground) missions.
In addition to direct combat missions, the F-35 stealth aircraft also has intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) capabilities, helping to increase the effectiveness of air, naval, and land units. Allied troops, by providing them with valuable battlefield data in real time.
Also because of these capabilities, the F-35 stealth aircraft has been considered the “midfielder of the sky”. The F-35’s survivability is also very high thanks to its stealth feature.
The ability to carry weapons of the F-35 stealth aircraft is also very respectable. With “Beast Mode”, the F-35 stealth aircraft can carry 4 GBU-12 laser-guided bombs weighing nearly 230 kg on the wings, 2 GBU-12 bombs in the internal weapons bay, and an AIM-9 air-to-air heat-seeking missile.
Besides these impressive capabilities, the F-35 stealth aircraft is said to be “affordable”. In a statement explaining the reason for buying the F-35 stealth machine, the Swiss government said that the cost of buying a fifth-generation stealth fighter is even lower than that of a fourth-generation aircraft.
However, perhaps this assessment also needs to be reconsidered, the cost of F-35s is probably only “affordable” for “giant” countries like Switzerland. In addition to the cost of aircraft procurement, personnel training, armament, operating and maintenance costs of the F-35 stealth aircraft are also very expensive, for example its stealth coating must be repainted after each flight.
An hour of flight time for the stealthy F-35 currently costs $36,000, although Lockheed wants to reduce that to $25,000 per hour of flight. Meanwhile, the F-16 fighter only costs 22,000 USD / flight hour.
In addition, with the purchase of stealth fighters from the US, countries can strengthen their defense military links with this superpower.
Watch out Russia
In addition to those factors, for many European countries, choosing the F-35 is also a geopolitical decision: to keep an eye on a Russia that is growing stronger in all aspects.
The decision to buy advanced weapons like the F-35 will help countries work more closely with the US, for example through training for pilots and maintenance personnel. The use of similar systems also improves military interoperability with the United States. These factors can help countries gain more confidence when facing Russia. It is not clear how the F-35 will confront the Russian S-400.
However, not all European countries that buy F-35 stealth aircraft see the Russian threat in the same way. Finland’s defense minister said in December 2021 that he had seen no activity related to Finland’s “neighborhood” and “no military threat against Finland”.
Finland has ramped up its defense capabilities in recent weeks, with one official saying there is no direct threat but there is still a risk from ongoing operations.
“The more military action there is, even if it was just innocent movement, the higher the risk that something happens, someone overreacts or misunderstands and we need to be ready for all that,” said Colonel Petteri Kajanmaa, head of the warfare department at the Finnish National Defence University, referring to the Baltic Sea region.