Since he began his 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, Lockheed's aircraft won all the competitions in which it took part, often to the detriment of European aircraft, except for one, the replacement of the German Tornados. Today, the F35 is engaged in 2 competitions in Europe against European planes, in Finland, and in Switzerland, and continues to align successes 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 as in the United States, for its chronic unreliability, its insufficient aeronautical performance, and the excessive price of its maintenance. How, under these conditions, the Lockheed star plane manages to systematically eliminate its European and American adversaries, to impose itself on all the markets?
This success is based on 3 promises made both by Lockheed-Martin and by the US State Department, and admirably relayed by NATO, forming a vice of formidable political and public effectiveness.
1- The Technological Promise
The whole discourse surrounding the F35 is articulated around a promise of absolute technological superiority, gathered in a "5th generation aircraft" hat concept, making it possible to create a clear divide with other Western devices. The definition of this "5th generation" has also been modified, to correspond perfectly to the F35, by removing the notion of super-cruise.1, which however systematically appeared in Lockheed's communication when promoting the F22. It is this subjective classification which acts, through a systematic media and political hype, as a dichotomous filter vis-à-vis 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 the previous generation aircraft having reached the technological pinnacle represented by the technological paradigms used. In addition, the “generation 4+ aircraft” classification intrinsically carries a notion of scalability limit, which the F35 does not have, on the contrary, since it represents the base of the 5th generation.
This promise obviously does not stand up to the 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 many weaknesses, especially in terms of speed, maneuverability, availability, carrying capacity and range. It also suffers from its single-engine architecture, which represents an additional risk for a device of this price.
2- The promise of interoperability
If there is an objective argument that makes the decision about the F35, it is that of interoperatility. Choosing the F35 also means choosing perfect interoperability with the American forces and their equipment, and therefore by transitivity, ensuring American protection in the event of an attack. This argument is also widely put forward by the Trump administration, having transformed the F35 into a ticket to US protection.
Because this interoperability is also, for Washington, the guarantee of a captive market for the 40 to 50 years to come, the F35 coming with its own maintenance systems, its own armaments, and its own centralized evolutions. A commercial strategy which is reminiscent, in this respect, of that of GAFA, which controls the move upmarket of its customers by the rotation of application versions, and by a gradual deterioration in performance with constant use.
This area is perfectly represented by the carrying of the NATO B61 gravitational nuclear bomb, which can today be deployed by the Belgian, Dutch and Turkish F16s, as well as the German and Italian Tornados. However, the United States refuses for the moment to adapt this strategic ammunition to the European Typhoon as they did for the Tornado, with the sole aim of encouraging Germany to equip itself with F35, or, at worst. cases, of F / A 18 E / F Super Hornet, while the political authorities have refused the F35, and wish to favor the Typhoon built locally.
3- The Public Promise
Unlike the European aircraft manufacturers, Lockheed-Martin has built its commercial success on an action that simultaneously targets political and military authorities, 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 generalist media as well as specialized media, posing a speech framed to the glory of his device. In two days, specialized journalists like many soldiers, yet until now quite critical of the apparatus acquired by his Turkish opponent, had all become fervent supporters, inexhaustible on the examples of simulated engagements with the Italian F35s during which the stealth plane performed "feats", and forgetting the reservations yet described a few days previously concerning the cost, maintenance, availability of the aircraft ...
This action was carried out simultaneously in Greece, Romania and Poland, causing the complete change of public opinion in a few days, and therefore, of the 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 an incredibly violent press campaign, which has cost its money. 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 issues of 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 chiefs, such as that, previously mentioned, of the chief of staff of the Luftwaffe in the German file, or like that of the Dutch chief of staff in the… Belgian file!
In addition, there are indications that NATO would intervene directly in the technical evaluation of aircraft during European calls for tenders, as was the case in Belgium, when NATO imposed on the Air Force to be able to carry out anti-aircraft defenses suppression operations, therefore to have an aircraft equipped with significant stealth according to Alliance criteria, which only the F35 possessed. It did not matter that in order to acquire the aircraft, the country had to reduce its fleet to 32 aircraft, a figure allowing only an operational squadron in the event of conflict, and prohibiting Brussels from participating in coalitions on a permanent basis.
NATO's incentives for the F35 were, and still are, numerous in Greece, Spain, and even Germany, with 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 fighter jets, have been ignored by US pressure.
The success of the F35 is not due to chance, nor is it due to an absolute allegiance of Europeans and Asians to the United States. It is the result of a global strategy combining a perfectly mastered extended communication, an effective network of influence, and based on the lack of a European alternative, not in terms of combat aircraft, but in terms of strategy.
If France and Germany actually want to give real impetus to the Europe of La Défense, it will be necessary to have an attractive Defense offer upstream to meet these 3 American promises, and powerful enough to constitute an alternative. standards in the United States, and using the same communication strategies, in particular vis-à-vis public opinion. Otherwise, the European aeronautics offer will continue to crumble in the face of American blows, despite the indisputable advantages of European aircraft!