Why will the F-35 tsunami in Europe threaten the FCAS and GCAP programs?

Portuguese authorities have announced that they will turn to the American F-35 to replace their fighter fleet currently equipped with F-16s. It is the 14th European country to turn to Lockheed-Martin's stealth fighter, which has become the de facto European standard on the old continent in terms of fighter aircraft. How can we explain this unprecedented American success, and what are, and will be, the consequences on the future of the military aeronautical industry of the old continent?

« NATO's solidarity clause is Article 5, not Article F-35! » It was in these terms that in 2019, during a speech at the Atlantic Council, the Minister of the French Armed Forces, Florence Parly, attempted to bring the Donald Trump administration back to fairer positions, regarding the pressure it put on Europeans to buy the Lockheed-Martin stealth fighter.

At that time, the dominant idea in France was that the success of the F35 in Europe was explained first and foremost by the pressure exerted by Washington and NATO on its allies, detriment of European aircraft: the Swedish Gripen, the Eurofighter Typhoon European and the Rafale French.

Four years later, while the new Biden administration has been much less insistent in imposing the fighter in Europe, it is clear that the F-35 dynamic is far from fading. Moreover, after Greece a few months ago, then Romania and the Czech Republic a few weeks ago, Portugal has just announced that it will turn to the Lockheed-Martin fighter to replace its aging F-16s, thus becoming the 14th European country to have declared itself in favor of this aircraft.

History of the F35 Tsunami in Europe

Since the first European orders from the British, Dutch, Italian, Danish and Norwegian program partners, the Lockheed-Martin stealth fighter has established itself wherever it has been proposed, in Europe and elsewhere.

Why will the F-35 tsunami in Europe threaten the FCAS and GCAP programs? 4

In Europe, beyond orders from these first 5 countries from the start of the 2010s, it was the turn of Poland in 2018, then Belgium in 2019, to turn to the device.

In 2021, it was Switzerland that turned its back on Rafale French, although presented as a favorite by the Swiss press, to acquire the F-35, followed in 2022 by Finland, to the great despair of Sweden which hoped to build a powerful industrial and defensive partnership around the Gripen E/F with its neighbor with which it shares much more than a border.

Greece, Romania, Czech Republic, Portugal: a surge of F-35s in 2023

But the most notable year, concerning European acquisitions of the American F-35, will undoubtedly be 2023. After at the start of the year, Athens confirmed its intention to order, in the years to come, the F35A to replace a part of its F-16, Romania then the Czech Republic did the same a few months later.

Finally, this week, Portugal, the last historical user of the American F-16 not to have crossed the Rubicon, has just announced its decision to soon replace its fighters with the Lockheed-Martin F-35A.

Two thirds of European air forces equipped with F35s in 2030

The fact is, as mentioned in a previous article, it is more than likely that by 2030, only 7 or 8 air forces of the 25 air forces in Europe will not be equipped with the American stealth fighter: France, Croatia and perhaps Serbia, which will operate on Rafale ; Sweden and Hungary with a fleet of Gripen; Slovakia, Slovenia and perhaps Bulgaria, on F-16.

RAfale and Gripen
Why will the F-35 tsunami in Europe threaten the FCAS and GCAP programs? 5

Two unknowns remain today on the subject. Spain on the one hand, even if it is an open secret, since Madrid has no other choice than to choose the F-35B to replace its Harrier II, and Austria on the one hand. 'other, while the country seems not yet to have decided on the future of its fleet of Typhoon Block 1.

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