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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization
(Washington D.C.) Germany has now joined the ranks of European countries acquiring and operating the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the country has placed an initial order with Lockheed for the procurement of F-35s.
The addition of F-35 in Germany aligns with the country’s intense reaction to the Russian of invasion of Ukraine, a development which seems to have reignited Germany’s massive “fighting spirit” and inspired a large-scale increase in force size, military budget and new technology. Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin praised Germany for its commitment to NATO and solidarity with a collective European effort to deter and stop Russia. Germany has of course been among the large group of nations sending weapons to Ukraine in their fight against Russia, as they have sent Stinger anti-aircraft missiles as well as anti-tank missiles in support of Ukraine.
“Germany has shown tremendous leadership at this crucial moment. Your chancellor's decisions to bolster Germany's armed forces are bold and historic, and we look forward to working with you to implement these important changes. We also salute Germany's decision to send security assistance to Ukraine. Your example helped to inspire other Allies and partners to follow,” Austin said.
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Germany continues to play a much larger and more prominent role when it comes to European security, NATO solidarity and deterrence of Russia. Perhaps Germany will participate more fully in NATO training exercises and continue to increase their numbers of tanks, missiles, 5th-generation fighters and overall force size.
“We decided that we want to deliver arms to a region where there is a conflict, where there's actually a war that's being waged, and that's a decision that is very special for Germany. But it was necessary to make that decision because we have seen that agreements were broken, that lies were told and that a brutal war of aggression was started, and that is why we have to make those very crucial decisions,” Christine Lambrecht, Minister of Defense, Federal Republic of Germany, told reporters following a meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin earlier this year.
European Force of F-35s
Dr. Dennis Göge, Vice President for Central and Eastern Europe Lockheed Martin wrote in a public statement that Germany’s F-35 buy will help support a 10-nation, 550-aircraft strong European F-35 force.
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The growing number of F-35s within the US fleet and throughout Europe is an extremely significant development when it comes to further deterrence against Russian expansion. Any kind of F-35 defensive force would likely cause real problems for an invading Russian ground Army. F-35s would make it very difficult for Russia to operate with any kind of air superiority, and it is not at all clear that Russian Su-57s could rival the F-35 or even exist in sufficient numbers to offer air support to attacking forces. The speed, maneuverability and weapons capability of the F-35 could threaten, stop or even destroy advancing Russian tanks, armored vehicles and ground troops.
The US already bases F-35s in Germany, Poland is becoming an F-35 customer and a number of countries such as Germany itself, Finland and Switzerland are now F-35 customers. These new countries join an existing list of countries operating the F-35 to include Denmark, Norway, Italy, the Netherlands and of course the U.K.
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What this means is that a growing number of networked F-35s will operate throughout the European continent and further fortify the Eastern Flank. F-35s in both Poland and Germany, for instance, are likely able to reach Russian airspace without much trouble, and certainly UK-based F-35s could get there with some refueling. A squadron typically includes anywhere from 12 to 24 aircraft, therefore the addition of two squadrons represents a substantial increase.
This is extremely significant in a number of key respects, related to air, ground and sea power. F-35s can of course form an interconnected multi-national force of 5th Generation fighters, in part because of MADL, the aircrafts. common Multifunction Datalink.
MADL, as it is called, enables secure data and intelligence information exchange between all F-35s, a technological pipeline which would enable F-35 countries to form large formations and disperse across a wide operational envelope. Added to this, the F-35s drone-like ISR capabilities could help fortify surveillance efforts in high risk areas, in particular due to its growing ability to network with drones from the cockpit in real-time.
This massively extends the surveillance reach of F-35 formations, and is something greatly expanded by growing abilities for the F-35 to share information with surface and ground units as well. A large, multinational force of F-35s could in effect help drive a multi-domain joint attack formation, presenting a threat of great significance to Russia.
Yet another element of additional F-35 placement in Europe is simply a numbers game when it comes to air superiority. For example, Russia’s TASS news service reports that there are at the moment only a few operational 5th-Generation Su-57 aircraft and has plans to acquire roughly 70 more.
Assuming the Su-57 can rival the F-35, and there are no clear indications that it could, Russia simply does not have enough of them to compete for air superiority. NATO and the US, simply in terms of sheer numbers, would be operating large numbers of 5th-generation aircraft against a largely 4th-generation Russian airfleet. The US Air Force, for instance, already has more than 300 F-35As and ships could of course project F-35B and F-35C power from the Baltic Sea.
Kris Osborn is President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.