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F-35: The World’s Best Fighter? Hell Yes

F-35I Adir Israel
F-35I Adir. Image Credit: IDF Air Force.

Canada And Germany Are The Latest NATO Nations To Join The F-35 “Club” – The debate over whether the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) is the world’s best fighter is finished.

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The decisions by two “holdout” major Western powers, Germany and Canada, to acquire the F-35 leaves no doubt regarding the unique contributions that this aircraft can make to both national and NATO security. Multiple analyses and flyoffs by these two countries and others have ended with the same conclusion: the JSF is the best choice with respect to overall value, capability, price, and even maintainability for nations needing to modernize their tactical fighter fleets in the first half of the 21st century.

Canada was one of the original countries, along with the U.S., U.K., Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Australia, and Turkey, in the JSF consortium. Canada invested hundreds of millions in the development of the F-35 and has signed billions of dollars in industrial contracts. The original plan was for Canada to acquire nearly 100 F-35As to replace the Royal Canadian Air Force’s aging F/A-18s.

However, a new government in Ottawa headed by Justin Trudeau appeared to have buyer’s remorse and put the acquisition on hold in favor of an open competition. The results of that competition proved what more than a dozen countries around the world have concluded, which is that the JSF beats out all its potential rivals. The Canadian government’s official press release regarding its intention to acquire 88 F-35As made clear why the JSF was selected:

“Canada is confident that the F-35 represents the best fighter jet for our country at the best price for Canadians. During the finalization phase of the procurement process, the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin with Pratt & Whitney successfully demonstrated that an agreement to purchase the F-35 fighter jets meets Canada’s requirements and outcomes, including value for money, flexibility, protection against risks, performance, and delivery assurances.”

Canada’s decision was based, in part, on its recognition that eight countries already were successfully operating F-35s, providing demonstrable evidence of the aircraft’s performance, price, and sustainability. Both the U.S. and Israel have employed their F-35s in combat.

Because of the timing of its acquisition decision, Canada will be able to avail itself of the latest upgrades to the F-35. Canadian JSFs will be the Block 4 version which capitalize on the provision of new computing capabilities and power generation to support additional sensors, an improved electronic warfare capability, enhanced data fusion, and at least seventeen new kinetic and non-kinetic weapons.

In addition, Canada and the other F-35 operators will benefit from the current plans to provide an improved engine for the F-35. Currently, the JSF is powered by the Pratt & Whitney (P&W) F135 engine. The Joint Program Office is looking at options for an enhanced powerplant. This would be either an engine enhancement package for the F-135 or an entirely new engine.

The Canadian analysis of the advantages of the F-35 mirrors those of other countries. Switzerland surprised many, particularly in Europe, last year when it chose the JSF over the Eurofighter, Rafale, and F/A-18E/F. It was not surprising that the Swiss determined that the F-35A was more capable than its competitors. What was remarkable was the conclusion by the evaluators that the F-35A would be less costly to acquire, maintain and sustain over the platform’s lifespan.

The fact that the F-35 was the most affordable, maintainable, and sustainable fighter aircraft in the Western world is due, in large measure, to years of effort by the F-35’s team, led by prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and by engine maker P&W, to lean out production processes, improve parts reliability, implement predictive maintenance practices, and manage a complex supply chain.

Germany’s decision to acquire the F-35 followed a course even more torturous than that navigated by Canada. In order to maintain its role as the nation responsible for NATO’s nuclear deterrent, Germany faced an urgent requirement to replace its obsolescent nuclear-capable Tornado jets 2030. While the F-35A was intended from its inception to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons, the German government did not want to buy the JSF for fear this would undermine its own efforts to develop a sixth-generation fighter.

Initially Berlin hoped to turn the Eurofighter into a nuclear bomber. When the required alterations to the aircraft and certifications proved too onerous and time-consuming, Germany shifted its attention to the extremely capable F/A-18E/F. But again, the problems of reconfiguring the aircraft for the nuclear mission proved insurmountable. In addition, the survivability of non-stealthy aircraft against a high intensity air defense environment was questionable, at best. Finally, with time running out, Berlin bowed to the inevitable and signed a multi-billion dollar deal to buy 35 F-35As.

Being a member of the JSF club brings with it enhanced interoperability. By joining the F35 community, Canada and Germany will gain not only the world’s premier fifth-generation fighter, but also access to the knowledge base developed by all members with respect to such topics as new air operations, innovative tactics, improved maintenance threat data bases, and advanced training. There is a global F-35 logistics systems in place with depots and maintenance facilities around the world.

As tensions with Russia and Chinese continue or worsen, demand for the F-35 will likely increase, both from countries currently acquiring the aircraft and from those that want to purchase the JSF. Finland followed Switzerland and Poland by choosing to buy 64 JSFs. NATO members Greece and the Czech Republic have expressed strong interest in acquiring the F-35. India, which has acquired a number of U.S. air platforms including the C-17, P-8, C-130J, and Apache attack helicopter, has been mentioned by some observers as a potential future candidate for the JSF family. With the Block 4 improvements coming online and an improved or new engine in the works, the F-35 will continue to attract buyers well into the 21st century.

Expert Biography: A 19FortyFive Contributing Editor, Dr. Daniel Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program. Dr. Goure has held senior positions in both the private sector and the U.S. Government. Most recently, he was a member of the 2001 Department of Defense Transition Team. Dr. Goure spent two years in the U.S. Government as the director of the Office of Strategic Competitiveness in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He also served as a senior analyst on national security and defense issues with the Center for Naval Analyses, Science Applications International Corporation, SRS Technologies, R&D Associates and System Planning Corporation.

Written By

Dr. Goure is Senior Vice President with the Lexington Institute, a nonprofit public-policy research organization headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. He is involved in a wide range of issues as part of the institute’s national security program.

18 Comments

18 Comments

  1. 404NotFound

    January 14, 2023 at 4:44 pm

    Best fighter ?

    Several of them have crashed, caught fire while attempting to take off (AF27), some jockeys lost their life or injured.

    One f-35 allegedly written after just a minor bird strike, while there were several occasions or incidents of grounding due to mishaps or troubles with components.

    F-35 is an overpriced piece of flying IOT, that may actually flop during major combat.

    The lightning II is described or classified as a 5th generation war implement or combat aircraft.

    But the b-21 is alleged to be ‘6th gen.’ Thus f-35 is outdated.

    This is because the coming from UK’s tempest is also 6th gen.

    The mysterious x-37B is 8th gen while the NGAD / PCA is 7th gen.

    F-35 ? Best fighter. Hell, no.

  2. H.R. Holm

    January 14, 2023 at 5:10 pm

    Best? Rrrrriiiiight, *when it’s not being grounded for one thing or another, that is*.

  3. pagar

    January 14, 2023 at 5:50 pm

    Canada, germany, many others…buyin’ f-35s from lockmart?

    Sounds like all your local neighborhood shopkeepers are buyin’ protection from the protection racketeers’ syndicate. The reigning mafia house. Who’s word is law.

    That kind of protection is dubious and only gets the buyer trapped. Into a huge debt. From ever exploding maintenance costs and billowing parts price.

    Mafia type of business model.

  4. Commentar

    January 14, 2023 at 6:16 pm

    F-35 reminds one of the infamous messerschmitt me bf109 and the equally notorious mitsubishi A6M zero.

    Both warplanes paved the way for global recklessness and grand misadventure or gross miscalculation.

    So will the f-35. The greatest misadventure or miscalculation by humanity is yet to come. But it’s inevitable.

    The world can’t avoid such a fate. Look up Ilkley moor ufo incident on wiki.

    The man involved in that drama was shown a glimpse of world after a global nuclear blowout.

  5. John

    January 14, 2023 at 6:59 pm

    The F-35 has superior stealth capability and sensorfusion.
    The problem for any forward based fighter force is its vulnerability to missile and drone attacks while on base.The future seems to belong to long range missiles, Rocket artillery and loitering munitions

  6. longest winter

    January 14, 2023 at 7:51 pm

    “What was remarkable was the conclusion by the evaluators that the F-35A would be less costly to acquire, maintain and sustain over the platform’s lifespan.”

    Secret Sauce –

    “Lockheed Martin serves as the prime contractor with a global supply chain of more than 1,900 companies based in the United States and in every nation acquiring the F-35.”

    Now sell this steaming pile when each nation is not getting a cut of the development and manufacturing cash.
    This is a US product in the same manner that an F150 with a trans made in Mexico, an engine made in Canada and body panels and plastics from foreign sources with occasional final assembly in the US is an american product.

    If every operator gets farmed out tech to manufacture, (Turkey re: S400 fiasco) that element would be a large factor in adoption that I do not see mentioned. It also leads to tech pilfering which we will then get lectured about as the great worry of these Global companies that must at all costs be addressed to their benefit.

    The maintenance factor evaluation – Switzerland for instance – is directly related to projected flight hours and the airspace that it would need to cover. Also not included in this PW commercial advertisement.

  7. CRS

    January 14, 2023 at 10:03 pm

    Israel likes ’em, that’s enough for me.

    All US weapons systems seem to be declared “disasters” by the press, but then are eventually fixed. Apache helicopter, B-1 bomber, M-16, Osprey, etc. Eventually, they seem to work the bugs out & then we have the best weapons in the world.

  8. froike

    January 15, 2023 at 12:21 pm

    CRS you hit the target! F-35, and other Weapons Systems all have kinks to work out. F35’s are not all alike. Some Countries customize software and hardware packages to improve all aspects of performance.
    It took Years of upgrades and fixes to bring The Apache Helicopter up to snuff….But now, show me a better Attack Helicopter!
    This is true of most weapons systems developed by any Country.

  9. FREDERICK BAUMANN

    January 15, 2023 at 12:37 pm

    Will we have enough? And will their performance in combat match all that glossy PR?

  10. Karl

    January 15, 2023 at 1:28 pm

    I think people forget all the issues that various pasted US aircraft have suffered during their early years. To write off the F-35 now would be to write off the such amazing aircraft as the Hard to handle F-14 and the crazy F-16

  11. DDG

    January 15, 2023 at 1:45 pm

    Remember, you have to have tankers, and it limited bomb storage. Put bombs or fuel tanks on it and you have an 1970 F 16. So go after the tankers and your best has to go home. Also remember it is now down to 8000 airframe hours, and because it took 16 yes to build they are already having to do Tech refresh for obsolete electronics and other components

  12. TMark

    January 15, 2023 at 3:04 pm

    Bless these haters who still can’t grasp the cost savings of the F-35. They look at the fly-away cost and maintenance hours and compare them to radar candy 4th-gen planes without accepting the leveraged performance benefits. Here are two examples:

    First, the F-35 has racked up kill ratios of 20:1 at Red Flag and other exercises. Even 24:1 was achieved. Imagine the combined acquisition and maintenance costs of those 20 destroyed aircraft. These savings are made more profound by the fact the F-35 is designed as a strike platform first, ISR second and air-to-air third.

    Second, let’s examine the strike mission. With Block 4 upgrades, a pair of F-35s can perform a penetrating strike ALONE while a pair of F-16s would require up to 20 supporting aircraft such as EW, AEW-C2, ISR, A2A and all the extra tankers to keep those babysitters in the air. Now combine the acquisition, maintenance and fuel costs of those 20 babysitters. Add in the babysitter personnel costs – training, salaries, healthcare, housing, dependents, pensions, basing, etc. Get’n the picture?

    Foreign buyers have recognized they can replace large fleets of multiple classes (all radar candy) with smaller fleets of F-35s. Doing so they need fewer supporting aircraft, fewer personnel, fewer tanker missions, fewer bases, and all in all a vastly reduced budgetary footprint. Haters keep comparing apples to apples, comparing F-35 wrench cranks to F-16 wrench cranks, while entirely unaware of the Lightning’s 24:1 and 20:1 leverage ratios.

  13. Arash

    January 15, 2023 at 4:13 pm

    Business as usual.
    All of these good old “analysts” just pumping their own stock!

    This guy is even going to the absurd extent of saying that F35 is the best “fighter” in the world.
    Something that even the air force can tell you is not true because F-22 is clearly a superior platform.

    But the problem with F-22 is that it’s not being produced or procured anymore so there is no opportunity for pumping its stock!!

  14. On my way through..

    January 15, 2023 at 10:16 pm

    F-35 is a strike platform, not a fighter. It’s a completely different mission set design than the F-22.

    You all act like the F-16 has the maneuverability that it did in the 70’s. They have hung so much shit on it that it’s a pig. Super bugs are slow pigs.

  15. Walker

    January 15, 2023 at 10:57 pm

    Say I’m an ace pilot, fully loaded, gassed up and all by myself. I would want the F-22. Fighting in a squadron, I would want to be surrounded by F-35s. That is the difference. So yeah, I can understand when someone says the F35 is the best fighter in the world.

  16. Dan Jenson

    January 15, 2023 at 11:06 pm

    By the time it is truly mission capable, has the new engine, and can fly in the rain it will be outdated and retired just like the F-22.

  17. LTC1873

    January 15, 2023 at 11:37 pm

    The real question is how many world class Raptors could the USAF have bought with the latest updated tech at much less per copy than the software plagued F-35’s before the Obama/Biden regime had terminated and scrapped the F-22 production line? Now were looking at buying F-15EX fighters at today’s highly inflated procurement cost to fill the gaps which is a giant step backwards.

  18. LTC1873

    January 15, 2023 at 11:57 pm

    Why even bother posting here when you delete the comments? Like it or not, you can’t have a real discussion without descent. Must be a rerun of the old twitter and facebook censorship policies. Too bad that Bongino has links to you freedom haters.

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