Many are of the view that the fast-modernizing Russian military, complete with 5th-Generation aircraft, tactical nuclear weapons, hypersonic missiles, T-14 Armata tank and large standing Army presents an extremely serious threat to the U.S., NATO and Eastern Europe in particular.
If this is already the case:
- What would a Russian threat look like should the U.S. and its coalition of allied European partners not have an F-35?
- How much would that change the threat equation?
- Would the absence of the F-35 catapult Europe into new dimensions of vulnerability?
F-35 Multinational Force
It may seem somewhat self-evident, yet the collective impact of a multinational F-35 force may in and of itself be sufficient to deter potential Russian aggression.
The question seems quite relevant to the threat equation for Europe and may explain why more countries such as Switzerland are acquiring F-35s.
There are many reasons for this, the first and foremost perhaps simply being the networking potential among allied F-35 nations - to include the U.K., Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Poland and now Switzerland.
Of course the stealth and 5th-generation characteristics of the F-35 present attack possibilities as well as a counterbalance to Russia’s Su-57 5th-generation stealth fighter.
A networked web of European F-35s, integrated through a common Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL) could cover an expansive geographic scope potentially sufficient to thwart any kind of large scale Russian land advance.
Russia’s land Army is known of course to be quite significant in numbers and technological sophistication, and while it may indeed be matched or outgunned by a NATO ground force of M1 Abrams tanks and multinational troops, artillery, drones, helicopters and armored vehicles, the existence of a combined F-35 air attack might prove to be the most decisive factor in stopping a Russian attack.
The F-22 is arguably unparalleled, however they are only in the U.S. Air Force and there may not be enough of them.
F-35 NATO Surveillance
The other thing not having the F-35 would do to Europe is it would deprive NATO of some very key surveillance, networking and air-ground coordination. With its sensors and drone-like surveillance technology, a fleet of F-35s could be key to multi-domain operations in any kind of combat circumstance. Information sharing, and an ability to support ground forces from the air completely changes the deterrence equation, presenting potential warfare dilemmas likely to cause Russia pause should they contemplate any kind of an attack in Eastern Europe.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.