Is the F-35 a budget time bomb for European armies?

In recent years, and with a few exceptions, the American Lockheed-Martin's F-35 combat aircraft has established itself with most European air forces as part of their modernization. Stealth, connected and equipped with high-powered sensors, the Lightning II has convinced, to date, no less than 10 European air forces (Germany, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Norway, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom and Switzerland), while 4 others have announced their intention to do so (Greece, Spain, Czech Republic and Romania), making the device a de facto standard for European hunting.

It must be said that the device does not lack arguments to convince. Belonging to the highly publicized although questionable 5th generation of combat, it has capabilities hitherto inaccessible to other aircraft of the moment, notably the Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale, such as significant stealth and very powerful data fusion giving it unparalleled operational capabilities, in particular to evolve against modern anti-aircraft defenses.

RAfale greece Military planning and plans | Germany | Defense Analysis
Of the 3 models of European combat aircraft available today, only the Rafale has managed to establish itself in Europe in recent years in Greece and Croatia.

In addition, the combat aircraft having been acquired by 3 of the 4 US armed forces, the Air Force, the Navy and the Marine Corps, for more than 2300 units, its future and sustainability are guaranteed for decades to come. . The Lightning II also has an attractive entry price, operating in the same price category as the Rafale around $90 million in flying condition.

Finally, it has benefited from unfailing support from the State Department and the Pentagon, while more than ever, the United States appears to be the guarantor of European security.

Therefore, and despite numerous French protests about the threat that Lockheed's aircraft would represent on the future of the aeronautical industry and therefore of European strategic autonomy, its success was, to say the least, expected and predictable.

However, and without entering into the debate as to whether the device is or is not actually as efficient from an operational point of view as anticipated, it could well represent a colossal threat for the European armies in the years to come. .

Not because of the appearance of systems capable of detecting stealth aircraft and which will deprive it of its main asset, and not more concerning the severe dependence not only on the United States, but above all on Lockheed-Martin that the system of the device imposes on its users. The real danger to come will in reality be budgetary.

USAF F 16 e1683737552610 Military Planning and Plans | Germany | Defense Analysis
The US Air Force's F-16s, although 31 years old on average, have a cost per flight hour more than half that of the F-2A

The subject has been demonstrated by a study that is both highly documented and perfectly argued, conducted by a Greek author in an article published on the Belisarius website dedicated to defense issues in this country in perpetual competition with its Turkish neighbour.

The article indeed shows that the costs per flight hour of the F-35 in its A version, mainly acquired by the European air forces, is now approaching the threshold of $50.000, whereas at strictly the same perimeter, the F-16 C/D, meanwhile, remains below the $25.000 mark.

Indeed, according to several studies and projections carried out by perfectly neutral institutes, such as the American GAO (equivalent to the Cours de Compte in France), the price of one hour of flight already today exceeds $38.000 (against $22k for the F-16), while the average age of the US fleet is barely more than 3 years, and many expensive future developments are looming, such as the F-135 turbojet engine or the transition to the Block 4 standard.


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