Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Why is the F35 so successful commercially?

Since it began its career, the American F35 aircraft has achieved a remarkable number of commercial successes in Europe and Asia. Beyond the 7 partner countries of the program, the Lockheed aircraft won all the competitions in which it participated, often to the detriment of the European aircraft, except one, the replacement of the German Tornados. Today, the F35 is engaged in 2 competitions in Europe against European aircraft, in Finland, and in Switzerland, and continues to achieve success in Asia, with an order for more than 100 additional aircraft from Japan, negotiations progress with Singapore, and a probable order extension for South Korea.

At the same time, the program is widely criticized, in Europe and in the United States, for its chronic lack of reliability, its insufficient aeronautical performance, and the excessive cost of its maintenance. How, under these conditions, does Lockheed's star plane manage to systematically eliminate its European and American adversaries, to impose itself on all markets?

This success is based on 3 promises made by both Lockheed-Martin and the American State Department, and admirably relayed by NATO, forming a grip of formidable political and public effectiveness.

F22 Raptor Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
The American F22, first representative of Lockheed's "5th generation"

1- The technological promise

The entire discourse surrounding the F35 is articulated around a promise of absolute technological superiority, brought together in an overall “5th generation aircraft” concept , making it possible to create a clear divide with other Western aircraft. The definition of this "5th generation" has also been modified, to correspond perfectly to the F35, by removing the notion of super-cruise[efn_note]capacity of an aircraft to maintain supersonic speed without using afterburner[/ efn_note], which nevertheless systematically appeared in Lockheed's communication when it promoted the F22. It is this subjective classification which acts, through systematic media and political hype, as a dichotomous filter with regard to the Rafale , the Typhoon , the Super Hornet or the Gripen. European aircraft manufacturers found themselves classified in an equally artificial notion of "generation 4+", supposed to represent previous generation aircraft having reached the technological pinnacle that the technological paradigms used would represent. In addition, the classification "generation 4+ aircraft" intrinsically carries a notion of limit of scalability, which the F35 does not have, on the contrary, since representing the base of the 5th generation.

This promise obviously does not stand up to examination of the facts, the F35 being certainly a very capable platform in terms of detection capacity, and being able to exploit advanced radar stealth if necessary, but also suffering from numerous weaknesses, particularly in terms of speed, maneuverability, availability, carrying capacity and range of action. It also suffers from its single-motor architecture, which represents an additional risk for a device of this price.

2- The promise of interoperability

If there is one objective argument that makes the decision about the F35, it is that of interoperability. Choosing the F35 also means choosing perfect interoperability with American forces and their equipment, and therefore through transitivity, to ensure American protection in the event of aggression. This argument is also widely put forward by the Trump administration, having transformed the F35 into an entry ticket to US protection.

Because this Interoperability is also, for Washington, the guarantee of a captive market for the next 40 to 50 years, the F35 coming with its own maintenance systems, its own weapons, and its own centralized developments. A commercial strategy which is reminiscent, in this respect, of that of GAFA, which controls the move upmarket of its customers by rolling versions of applications, and by a progressive degradation of performance with constant use.

F35A during the B61 nuclear bomb release tests Defense Analyzes | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
F35A dropping a B61 nuclear bomb

This area is perfectly represented by the carriage of the NATO B61 gravitational nuclear bomb, which can today be used by the Belgian, Dutch and Turkish F16s, as well as the German and Italian Tornados. However, the United States is currently refusing to adapt this strategic munition to the European Typhoon as they did for the Tornado, with the sole aim of encouraging Germany to equip itself with F35s, or, at worst cases, of F/A 18 E/F Super Hornet , while the political authorities refused the F35, and wish to favor the locally built Typhoon .

3- The public promise

Unlike European aircraft manufacturers, Lockheed-Martin has built its commercial success on action targeting political and military authorities simultaneously, as well as public opinion. Thus, when Washington decided to offer the F35 to Greece, to find an alternative to Turkey's probable exit from the program, the public announcement came at the same time as a vast communication campaign aimed at the general media as well as the specialized media, posing a speech framed in the glory of his device. In two days, specialized journalists like many military personnel, although until now quite critical of the apparatus acquired by its Turkish adversary, had all become fervent supporters, inexhaustible on the examples of simulated engagements with the Italian F35 during which the stealth aircraft performed "prowess", and forgetting the reservations described a few days previously concerning the cost, maintenance, availability of the aircraft...

F35B and Typhoon prefiguring Royal Air France for the next 30 years Defense Analysis | Fighter aircraft | Military aircraft construction
F35A and Typhoon flying in formation

This action was simultaneously carried out in Greece, Romania and Poland, leading to a complete shift in public opinion in a few days, and therefore, in political authorities, even the most reluctant. This perfectly executed strategy has only failed once since the launch of the program, against A.Merkel and U. von der Leyen in Germany, and this despite a press campaign of incredible violence, having moreover cost his post to the Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe.

4- The troubled role of NATO

Because in this matter, NATO seems to be failing in its commitment to neutrality on matters relating to national sovereignty, acting in Europe as an aggressive commercial agent of Lockheed, according to some well-informed observers. This explains the public positions taken by military leaders, such as that, previously cited, of the Luftwaffe chief of staff in the German case, or like that of the Dutch chief of staff in the Belgian case... !

Furthermore, there are indications that NATO would intervene directly in the technical evaluation of aircraft during European calls for tender, as was the case in Belgium, when NATO imposed on the Air Force to be able to carry out operations to suppress anti-aircraft defenses, therefore to have a device with significant stealth according to Alliance criteria, which only the F35 possessed. It did not matter that to acquire the aircraft, the country had to reduce its fleet to 32 aircraft, a figure allowing only one operational squadron in the event of conflict, and prohibiting Brussels from participating in coalitions on a permanent basis.

The incentives coming from NATO in favor of the F35 were numerous, and still are, in Greece, in Spain, and even in Germany, Lockheed not accepting Berlin's decision to do without its jewel. It seems that in Europe (in the continental sense), only France and Sweden, two countries producing their own combat aircraft, have been ignored by US pressure.


The success of the F35 is not due to chance, any more than it is due to absolute allegiance of Europeans and Asians to the United States. It results from a global strategy combining perfectly controlled extensive communication, an effective network of influence, and relying on the lack of European alternative, not in terms of combat aircraft, but in terms of strategy.

If France and Germany really want to give real impetus to Europe's Defense, it will be necessary to have an attractive Defense offer upstream to meet these 3 American promises, and sufficiently powerful to constitute an alternative. standards in the United States, and using the same communication strategies, particularly with regard to public opinion. Otherwise, the European aeronautical offer will continue to crumble in the face of American attacks, despite the undeniable advantages of European aircraft!

Fabrice Wolf
Fabrice Wolf
A former French naval aeronautics pilot, Fabrice is the editor and main author of the site. His areas of expertise are military aeronautics, defense economics, air and submarine warfare, and Akita inu.

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