Video Above: F-35s to Europe
The current Russian threat to Ukraine leaves little question as to why Poland is moving quickly to stand up its own fleet of F-35 aircraft, stealth fighters with the reach and combat radius to not only defend the Polish border but also support skies over Ukraine and even reach parts of Russia itself if needed.
F-35s and Poland
Poland shares a large border with Ukraine so it makes sense that the country would want to shore up deterrence efforts and protections for its own borders in the event Ukraine falls under Russian control. To the North, Poland borders the Baltic states and could even form a kind of F-35 “net” or “web” with Finland now that it has chosen the F-35 as well.
Certainly Poland, Finland, and other European F-35 countries present a formidable deterrent to any kind of Russian incursion, given that Russia would likely have difficulty securing the skies in support of any kind of large ground assault. Given this circumstance, it seems entirely possible that a strong, visible F-35 presence in Poland could offer itself as a sole factor sufficient to deter a potential Russian invasion of the Baltics or Ukraine.
This is particularly true when considering the likelihood of Finnish-Polish F-35 collaboration which, simply put, could by itself potentially thwart, stop, destroy or at least prevent a large-scale Russian military invasion.
Poland also likely seeks the F-35 for defensive purposes as well, given that its borders are within striking distance of 5th-generation, stealthy Russian Su-57s and medium-range ballistic missiles. Depending upon the range and resolution of the targeting sensors built into the Russian Su-57, Polish F-35s might be positioned to see and destroy approaching Russian aircraft before they are detected themselves. That is the intent of the F-35 to a large degree, meaning the aircraft has been built and upgraded to leverage a computing, sensing and targeting advantage over potential adversaries such that it can destroy large numbers of enemy fighters with a single aircraft.
Poland’s existing fleet of Soviet-era Russian-built fighters could very easily be overwhelmed and destroyed by Russian 5th-generation aircraft, a scenario leaving their country extremely vulnerable to a possible Russian invasion. Should the Baltics fall to Russian control quickly, something which many regard as potentially realistic in the event of Russian attack, Poland would be the next likely destination for advancing Russian ground forces.
Without the F-35, Poland would be in jeopardy of being overrun quickly by a Russian land attack, unless NATO were able to mass a large enough ground force with which to repel a Russian advance. However, even if Russia did operate with numerical overmatch on the ground, having decisive air superiority can more than compensate for a smaller, less capable ground force.
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The weeks leading up to Switzerland and Finland’s decision to acquire the F-35 were filled with speculation, conjecture and even strategic thinking about NATO’s deterrence posture, yet the Pentagon’s F-35 Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin were entirely silent.
This is because, regardless of what deliberations and discussions may be going on related to potential F-35 customers, the Pentagon is often deliberately silent on the topic.
Nonetheless, the arrival pace of new F-35 countries has taken even some F-35 advocates by surprise, fueled discussion of the jet becoming the stealth fighter of the “free world,” and inspired further conjecture as to which countries might be next to choose the aircraft.
F-35s and Greece
What about Greece? The country has formally sent a Letter of Request to the Pentagon to buy 18-to-24 F-35s. For several years now, the question of a Greek F-35 has generated countless reports focusing on whether Greece can afford the jets or whether Lockheed has the production capacity to build them anytime soon. A 2020 report in Air Force Magazine raised the possibility that Greece might be willing to buy used F-35s for the purpose of getting them sooner or saving money.
Regardless of how or when all of this fully evolves, the prospect of a force of Greek F-35s raises interesting questions about NATOs deterrence posture. At first glance, recent developments such as Finland’s choice to acquire the jet might seem to lend additional relevance to the possibility of a Greek F-35.
For instance, a networked force of Finnish, Polish and Greek F-35s could form a parabola-like defensive perimeter for Eastern Europe with which to deter Russian across the entire North-South expanse of the continent. Greek F-35s could threaten Russia from the South while Finnish and Polish F-35s could cover central and Northern Russia. A Southern, Greece-based F-35 force could also reach the Black Sea and help defend Key NATO Eastern European allies such a Romania.
There is yet another key variable of relevance to a possible Greek F-35 which is entirely separate from any need to deter Russia. Greek F-35s would be within striking reach of the Middle East in the event that operations were needed on the Arabian Peninsula or over Iraq and Iran. With Turkey not allowed as an F-35 customer, Greek F-35s could open up a 5th-generation attack corridor into the Middle East.
By mere proximity alone, Greek F-35s could hold Iran at risk in a way which could offer a closer-in deterrent against Iranian aggression. Along similar strategic lines, Greek F-35s could lend allied support to Israel’s F-35 variant by lending additional 5th-generation “mass” to a deterrence or combat equation.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and 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.