As threats advance and coalition efforts become more important than ever, premier forces around the world have united around one aircraft – the F-35. Not only does the advanced fighter provide unrivaled capabilities in stealth, situational awareness, sensor fusion, mission flexibility and more – the jet drives economic growth across several European countries, and enables deep interoperability for joint coalition operations.
Europe is no stranger to the F-35. In fact, since the onset of the program in the early 2000s, the United Kingdom played a critical role, directly contributing to the development of what has now become the most dominant fighter in the world.
Even before a final aircraft concept was chosen, British engineers and test pilots were making their mark on the program. Under the desert sky at Edwards Air Force Base, California, a British test pilot took the X-35B prototype out for its first flight on June 23, 2001.
Today, that participation continues to yield significant growth and positive results for the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and the UK industry.
Like the UK, many other European nations significantly contribute to the F-35 program – six others, to be exact.
When it’s not dominating the skies, the immense value and benefit the F-35 brings can be felt on the ground. Across Europe, it’s evident the highest degrees of engineering excellence and ingenuity fueling the enterprise’s continued growth.
Like any major program, production and sustainment go hand in hand. Europe plays a major role in these two critical areas. Overall, nearly 25% of the F-35 content by value is provided by European companies, and European components are on every F-35 built for customers globally – projected at more than 3,000 over several decades.
By 2030, more than 500 F-35s will be stationed in Europe. And around Europe, you’ll find Maintenance, Repair, Overhaul and Upgrade depots, which ensure globally fielded F-35s maintain readiness and availability.
While the number of aircraft in the fleet continue to grow, the maturity and progress of European F-35 operators grows in lockstep. Across allied operations, nations are evolving and developing tactics for joint efforts. We see this in alliances such as NATO, where the F-35 – like the F-16 – is becoming the backbone of the joint fleet.
In October of 2018, Belgium became the seventh European nation to join the program – and in May of 2019, Poland signaled its intent to move forward with a potential F-35 acquisition. In November 2018, Italy declared its fleet of F-35 ready for combat with the announcement of Initial Operational Capability, followed by the United Kingdom in January 2019. The growth on the continent continues at a steady rate, making it increasingly clear the F-35 will serve as the backbone of the Europe’s airpower, while also enhancing allied partnerships and driving economic progress.
The makeup of Europe is diverse, and the F-35 was built to handle that diversity with operational ease. In the icy, Nordic region, countries like Norway and Denmark depend on the F-35 to provide seamless and consistent capability to arctic conditions. For the British, they rely on the F-35B to perform with excellence while out at sea on the HMS Queen Elizabeth. For the Dutch, while partnering with the U.S. Air Force to rigorously test two of its aircraft at Edwards AFB, they look to the future of fighting and winning against advanced threats – thanks to the F-35.
In Italy, the Italian Air Force is prepared to meet any challenge head on, whether operating an F-35A or F-35B, or working hard on the line of its Final Assembly and Checkout (FACO) facility to produce F-35s. In Belgium, a newcomer to the program, they see the F-35 as a cornerstone to one of the most transformational modernization initiatives in its history.
This June, the F-35 will take to the skies of Switzerland to showcase the pivotal role it could play in armasuisse’s Air 2030 program. At Turku Air Show in Finland and Paris Air Show in France, you can learn from our team on the impact the advanced fighter drives. An appearance is planned in the Netherlands as well.