Half of the fighter planes in Europe will have been built by Lockheed-Martin in 2035.

With the announcement of an upcoming order for 48 F-35A fighter jets by Romania, Lockheed-Martin secures a dominant position within European fighter fleets by 2035, when it will equip more than three quarters of the air forces of the old continent at that date.

This appetite of the European air forces for American fighters, while three aircraft manufacturers produce quality fighters on its soil, cannot be satisfied with the sole explanations articulated around the usual suspects, namely the dependence on US protection and American technologies.

In this context, how can we explain the success of American fighters in Europe, including with the air forces of countries participating in the construction of European fighters? Is it possible to act to contain or limit this phenomenon in the decades to come?

Romania to order 48 F-35As from Lockheed-Martin

After the Netherlands, Italy, Poland and 8 other European countries, Romania will turn to the Lockheed-Martin F-35 fighter to modernize its air force. According to a document distributed yesterday by specialized Romanian sites, Bucharest plans to acquire 48 aircraft in two phases.

The first, which would begin by the end of the year, would involve 32 aircraft, or two fighter squadrons, for a budget of $6,5 billion, and will also include all of the systems necessary for implementation. of this new hunter.

F-16 Romania
The F-35s which will be ordered by Romania will replace the second-hand F-16s recently acquired by Bucharest as an interim solution.

A second phase involving 16 additional F-35As, i.e. a 3rd squadron, and considered very significantly less expensive, will be launched subsequently. This will probably involve replacing the F-16C/Ds acquired second-hand, and whose operational lifespan remains limited.

This is another major success for Lockheed-Martin and its F-35 in Europe, while other air forces (Spain, Czech Republic and Greece) should also announce an order for the American fighter.

The over-representation of American fighter planes in Europe in 2035

The fact is, according to the information known to date, 12 to 14 of the 20 European air forces implementing a fighter fleet should be partially or fully equipped with F-35 A and B in 2035.

This range reaches 15 to 17 when the F-16, also from Lockheed-Martin, is taken into consideration. In total, 75% and 85% of European air forces will use fighters designed and manufactured by Lockheed-Martin in 2035.

More than 50% of Lockheed-Martin fighters in Europe

By analyzing the number of aircraft, there will be 500 to 730 F-35A and B and 192 to 210 F-16, mainly Block 70/72 or later, out of a total of 1680 to 1990 fighters in service. within the European air forces in 2035.

Dassault Rafale B Greece
Greece was the first European country to acquire the French fighter Rafale

In fact, Lockheed-Martin fighters should represent between 43 and 50% of the fighter planes deployed by the European air forces, far ahead of the 22 to 26% of the Eurofighter. Typhoon, the 14 to 17% of Rafale, or even the 9 to 10% of the Swedish Gripen.

Only 4 European air forces equipped exclusively with European fighters

This situation is, so to speak, unique on the planet. Indeed, to date, only five countries have all the skills to design a combat aircraft, the five members of the United Nations Security Council. Two other countries, South Korea and Sweden, have all the necessary skills, except for propellants.

In fact, European aircraft and engine manufacturers represent more than 40% of global skills and know-how in the field of combat aircraft.

Paradoxically, Europeans today are mainly turning to American combat aircraft models, including for Great Britain and its Italian partners, Spanish et German with whom they developed the Panavia Tornado then the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Even more surprising, only 4 of the 20 European air forces equipped with fighter planes will be equipped exclusively with European aircraft. In this case, it is France and Croatia who will fly on Rafale, and Sweden and Hungary, equipped with Gripen.

European fighter jets Rafale and Gripen
The French and Swedish air forces are among the only ones in Europe to be equipped only with nationally designed fighter planes.

Finally, it is interesting to note that the 1700 to 2000 combat aircraft which will equip the European air forces in 2035 will probably exceed the size of the Russian air forces by that date by 50%.

This European fighter fleet also exceeds, in the same proportions, the air force that the United States could, in the best case scenario, deploy in Europe in the event of a conflict.

Why this success of American combat planes in Europe?

It is therefore appropriate to question the reasons which lead the vast majority of Europeans to turn to American-made combat aircraft, rather than European ones, to the point of making them a true European standard, even though the European aircraft manufacturers are capable of producing aircraft perfectly sized to contain the Russian threat?

To answer this question, the “usual suspects” traditionally put forward, namely excessive submission of Europeans to the United States, exacerbated by very effective American activism on European chancelleries, are not enough to explain the extent of the phenomenon. . This is especially true since it is not found in other areas, such as armored vehicles, or even combat ships and submarines.

The limits of NATO's shared deterrence argument

The argument of participation in shared deterrence within NATO has a certain validity. It was, in fact, obviously at the heart of German and even Belgian decisions in favor of the American fighter, and was an important parameter in Italy and the Netherlands.

However, this explanation, according to which the United States artificially favored the F-35A in Europe by limiting the qualification of the B61-Mod12 nuclear gravitational bomb, which will be at the heart of NATO's shared deterrence for the next 20 years come, is partly biased, particularly from the French point of view.

F-35A B61-Mod12 nuclear bomb
The F-35A will be the primary vector of NATO's shared nuclear deterrent to deliver the B61-Mod12 nuclear bomb.

Thus, while it is indisputable that Washington favored the acquisition of F-35s through this means, particularly in the face of Typhoon and at the Super Hornet, this arm of leverage only exists through the refusal of Paris and London to share their own nuclear weapons within NATO's shared nuclear deterrent.

Indeed, nothing prevents the two European nations from also offering a stock of nuclear bombs or missiles under NATO command activated according to the principle of the double key, as is the case with the American B61.

However, neither London nor Paris have ever agreed to bear such shared responsibility in Europe, which could mechanically link them to a potentially nuclear conflict by sharing the fate of its neighbors and allies, as is supposedly the case of UNITED STATES.

On the contrary, for France like the United Kingdom, deterrence is considered as an exclusively national bubble of ultimate protection, not suffering from any neighborhood interaction, specifically making it possible to ensure the ultimate security of the nation, even in the event of widespread conflict.

Obviously, this posture, as watered down as it may be by unconvincing overtures from the leaders of the two countries, constitutes a considerable obstacle for Europeans, and in particular Eastern Europeans, when it comes to equip with equipment as critical as combat aircraft.

Lockheed-Martin's very effective commercial and technological strategy around the F-35

The commercial and marketing strategy employed by Lockheed-Martin, and supported by Washington, constitutes another explanation for this tidal wave of the F-35 in Europe.

The F-35, a plane of the future, even if it means sacrificing its present performance

Indeed, the American aircraft manufacturer has never stopped, for 15 years now and the Dutch competition, to present its combat aircraft as the aircraft of the future, particularly by making the Eurocanard or the Super Hornet appear as aircraft of the present. , and therefore, quickly, from the past.

F-35 canopy
Lockheed-Martin has agreed to sacrifice the current capabilities of its F-35 to favor future performance, at least in its commercial discourse.

To do this, Lockheed-Martin has systematically prioritized, in its speech, but also in its industrial strategy, the future capabilities of its fighter, even if it means sacrificing the immediate performance of the fighter.

Thus, all European buyers of the F-35 to date know that they will probably not receive a fully operational version of the aircraft, as is the case with the approximately 150 fighters already delivered to the British and Dutch air forces. , Italian, Danish or Norwegian to this day.

They are, on the other hand, a confidence, perhaps excessive, in the fact that when the time comes, the American fighter will actually offer the performance and capabilities promised by Washington, to engage in a high intensity conflict.

The low technological visibility of European fighters

Furthermore, these future capabilities, presented in a progression schedule of more than 20 years by LM, contribute to building the effectiveness of the fighter in terms of deterrence, whether it is its low observability or its capabilities of collaborative engagement.

Conversely, European fighters offer a clear technological perspective on a much tighter timetable, of the order of 5 to 7 years at best, despite the fact that these are very effective fighters today, undoubtedly more so than the F-35A, and all three have evolved remarkably over the last 30 years.

In fact, an air force which today would turn towards the Rafale, Typhoon or the Gripen, would choose a very effective fighter in 2030. The F-35 promises to be very effective in 2040 and beyond. This argument has come into play in several recent competitions, notably in Switzerland and Finland.

Europeans' distrust of the great European powers

Finally, whether we like it or not, there is today a real distrust in Europe, particularly in Eastern Europe, regarding possible military support from France, but also from Germany or Italy, if a major conflict were to begin in Central Europe.

Rafale B Air and Space Force
With barely more than 200 fighters in 2035, the French air forces will be far from having sufficient mass to justify a convincing technological standard.

And it's probably not without reason. First, while between them these three countries represent 35% of the population and more than 50% of the GDP of the European Union, they will represent only 20% of the land forces and 30% of the European air forces in 2035. .

For countries which, like Poland, Romania, the Czech Republic or the Baltic States, which are all moving towards a defense effort beyond 3% and considerably larger army formats, proportionally speaking, it is This is undoubtedly a reason eroding the confidence they can give to Paris, Berlin or Rome, in the event of conflict.

Beyond the means themselves, these countries have not demonstrated, in recent years, significant determination to oppose Russia, quite the contrary. Having placed themselves under the American umbrella by only delivering certain major equipment to Ukraine once the US green light was given, they could no longer appear as a credible alternative to Washington.

The opposite is also true. By having shown itself inflexible towards Turkey in recent years, Paris has acquired a very significant amount of trust from Greece, which has turned towards Rafale and French FDI frigates to modernize its air and naval forces.

Likewise, the balanced French position in the Balkans probably played a determining role in Zagreb's choice to equip itself with Rafale, and with Belgrade's intention to do the same.


As we can see, the decisions taken by European chancelleries in favor of American aircraft, and the F-35 in particular, at the expense of European models, turn out to be as paradoxical as they are understandable once the various initial biases are eliminated.

Above all, it appears that several of the parameters which led European leaders to turn towards the Lockheed-Martin aircraft are, in part at least, the consequence of postures and decisions of the European aircraft manufacturers themselves, as well as their respective governments.

It is therefore probably towards these criteria which had the effect of weakening the European offer, rather than towards the sterile criticism of European leaders and American omnipresence, that efforts and debate should be directed, so as to guarantee the sustainability and efficiency of this industry and its know-how in the decades to come.

Article from November 4, 2023 in full version until July 14, 2024

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  1. I hadn't seen this article last November and so discovered it today.
    Interesting analysis, going off the beaten track, and which questions France's nuclear policy which actually lacks coherence.
    This being said, in the field of military orders (as elsewhere) the cost, at least of acquisition, seems to me to be another decisive factor. The scale of internal orders in the USA makes it possible to offer for export aircraft whose cost is better amortized than comparable European production (in quality and not in quantity therefore), therefore less expensive.
    This being said, if this economic logic seems to exist for other military equipment (transport aircraft, air-ground defense systems (Patriot missiles), air-air missiles), this is apparently not the case for others: artillery, combat vehicles including tanks, boats and submarines in particular.
    For artillery and combat vehicles, we can think that being less complex to design, building them is within the reach of more countries, and that the phenomenon of the size of the series has less impact on the price offered.
    On the other hand, for boats and submarines, I admit that I do not understand, because it seems to me that the weak positioning of the USA in exports dates from before the recent construction and delivery problems very well documented on this site.
    Any possible answers?

    Sincerely to all

    • For submarines, this is linked to the fact that since the 60s, the US Navy has only built nuclear-powered submarines. In the area of ​​surface units, on the other hand, the previous frigate, the OH Perry, had performed very well. It was from the moment the US Navy became entangled in the LCS program and with super heavy destroyers that exports plunged.

  2. Thank you for these interesting answers.
    It should be noted, however, that France made the same choice of all-nuclear power (in terms of propulsion) at the beginning of the 80s, gradually replacing its Agosta-type “diesel” attack submarines with SSNs of the Agosta type. Rubis (now replaced by Suffren-type SSNs).
    However, Naval Group still and successfully offers (kudos to them) conventional attack submarines, Scorpène and Barracuda (the latter being a conventionally powered Suffren, for short).
    This shows that we can go completely nuclear and continue to export conventionally powered submarines. So there must be other elements of explanation on the American side…

    • France is alone in this situation, because the French BITD needs exports to balance its overall industrial activity. Great Britain and the United States abandoned the sale of submarines, the first in the 90s, the second in the 70s. China and Russia are using nuclear and conventional submarines. in their respective fleets, and export their conventional models.


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