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The state of the European fighter-jet market

The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter built by Lockheed Martin in the United States is set to dominate the European fighter-jet market for the next two decades. The F-35, while costly to buy and maintain, outperforms current European models – the multinational Eurofighter Typhoon and aircraft made by Dassault and Saab – and has entered the market decades earlier than the European Future Combat Air System.

Russia’s ɩɳʋλꜱɩσɳ of Ukraine, which prompted several European countries to announce unprecedented defence-spending increases, will further benefit the F-35 programme as countries consider making new acquisitions to strengthen their air forces.

In recent years European officials and industry leaders have emphasised the need to develop and build key military platforms indigenously and thus reduce their dependence on the United States. But this looks to be unachievable in the market for fighter jets. European companies have not yet launched a competitive alternative to the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, built by the US firm Lockheed Martin, which currently dominates the market and is expected to do so for the next two decades.

The F-35 is a stealthy fifth-generation platform and since 2015 has either been selected for or has entered service in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and several other countries in other regions of the world.

The dominance of US-built fighter jets in European air forces is a relatively new phenomenon. During the Cold W4r, NATO air arms were filled with mixed fleets of European and US platforms. Fleet sizes began shrinking in the 1990s and the balance shifted in favour of US-built jets. Many NATO member countries – including those in Eastern Europe that retained their Warsaw-Pact aircraft when they joined the alliance – are now seeking seek to upgrade their old service types and have turned primarily to the US defence industry.

The most important reason the F-35 has become an attractive acquisition choice is not its technological sophistication; rather, it is often seen as a more future-proof option than European alternatives, with a secure development pathway through the middle of this century that will also allow European air arms more opportunities for operational cooperation with the US Air Force.


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