Denmark Pursues Alternatives to F-35

 - March 22, 2013, 1:40 PM
Denmark is looking to replace its fleet of F-16s. Four of them are seen here from a USAF KC-135 during the air campaign over Libya in 2011. (Photo: U.S. Air Force)

Faced with growing costs in the Lockheed Martin F-35 program, Denmark is reviewing its options for a new fighter and has invited Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet), Eurofighter (Typhoon) and Saab (Gripen E) to submit information for alternatives. A decision is due in 2015. Dassault (Rafale) may have been approached, but at the time of writing appeared unlikely to respond. The company has a history of not bidding on programs that it calculates have little chance of success.

Denmark’s participation in the F-35 industrial program as a Level 3 partner was based on plans to procure 48 F-35As to replace its F-16 fleet one-for-one. Being a partner, however, does not oblige any country to purchase F-35s. Given its dwindling defense budget and escalating F-35 costs, Denmark might not be able to afford even half of the planned total.

Although it has bought aircraft from European suppliers before, including Drakens from Saab, Denmark has exhibited a strong preference for U.S. equipment. If the F-35 is not selected, Boeing’s Super Hornet has a strong chance, and has received considerable interest in recent years. Eurofighter–which previously withdrew from the Danish bidding process in 2007–now claims that its Typhoon would offer reduced costs to Denmark through interoperability with key NATO allies. Saab, meanwhile, has been pitching Gripen variants to Denmark for many years. Its Gripen DK proposal, along with a similar aircraft aimed at Norway, was the first public showing of a heavier, longer-range derivative that has evolved into the Gripen E now in development for Sweden and Switzerland.

These requests for information make Denmark the latest F-35 international partner to re-examine its planned purchase. In December Canada asked Boeing, Dassault, Eurofighter and Saab for information to enable a review of its fighter requirements. In the Netherlands the F-35 has faced substantial opposition, with parliament choosing to scrap the buy in a vote taken last June. Dutch participation, including the purchase of two test aircraft, was subsequently restored, but the country has deferred a purchase decision to 2015.

Comments

OMEGATALON's picture

There are no real alternatives to the F-35 and the need for a 5th GEN stealth fighter is a necessity in the future of just a handful of years which will make all 4th and 4.5 GEN fighters obsolete with the introduction of Russia's T-50 and China's J-21 5th GEN stealth fighters as one needs to remember that China's stealth technology program was assisted by Noshir Gowadia a former Northrop employee that worked on the B-2 stealth bomber program. Denmark like Australia and Canada will need to bite their lip by buying the F-35 or possibly have no Air Force because a 4/4.5 GEN aircraft will not last long in an aerial engagement with a 5th GEN because they'll shoot before you can detect them.

Arteest's picture

....is not the US. We don't need fighters like you do. Thank goodness we have elections in a couple tears!

Geoff Koh's picture

It would be nice if there were no alternatives needed to the F-35. That would make things easy and people could just write a check, call it a day and with the bonus pay take the family to never never land for a nice long holiday. Everything would be just fine.

But the hard cold reality is that the JSF/F-35 as a Program and business model has been inherently flawed from inception and flat out unsustainable.

Unfortunately, the setbacks, gaps and overruns have become even worse than expected by most critics had even calculated and cautioned about many years ago.

So this begs the question then as to what are the true alternatives, at this rather dangerous -- one might add -- late stage in the heavily miscalculated game?

Well for one thing what are the requirements? Is the requirement to defeat a T-50 in 2v2 WVR air combat? Quite possibly, that's probably not a main requirement for Denmark. However, would a requirement be to simply replace F-16s (which likely could not defeat a Mig-31, or possibly even Su-27 class, in max performing engagement) with a cost-effective, 'good-enough', reliable, modern multi-mission fighter to maintain capability and deterrent? Probably so.

If that's the case... one might further ask the question, why is Denmark also not "Inviting" Lockheed Martin to "submit information" on it' proposed F-16V?!?

Ola's picture

It's interesting if you analyze the so called 5th generation fighters, what are their characteristics. They are outrageously expensive to buy, they have outrageously high life time cost and they don't have any particularly high speed (F-35 does only reach Mach 1.6). They are stealthy as long as they don't use their radar or open fire. 1 to 1 they have an overhand, but meeting multiple enemy planes will surely be tough. With the cost of the F-35 most countries will not afford so many needed to meet a larger amount of enemies.

OMEGATALON says there is no alternatives for F-35. Well it depends on how you see it. Would you like to spend so much money on a plane that would be so expensive to fly in a country in Europe (Netherlands, Denmark etc) where there are no real enemies? Already today, the aircraft manufactures are looking at 6th generation, un-manned fighter aircrafts. If smaller countries would by F-35 they will be standing with these planes for the next 20-40 years with no money to buy 6th generation and will have no change in a real fight with these next generation aircrafts.

The best alternatives for f-35 is of course a cheaper solution (4th or 4,5 generation) and wait for 6th generation.

Knut Holt's picture

If this is a flawed design from the beginning, it will never get into serious operetion.

Guest's picture

To OMEGATALON

The F-35 will be inadequate to deal with the changed high threat environment which has shown that the aircraft has a lot of limitations and it cannot do a lot of things as expected to show and promise that is a true fifth generation fighter, because the aircraft doesn't meet all the requirements of partner nations.

The F-35 was defined during the mid-1990s to have “affordable” aerodynamic performance, stealth performance, sensor capabilities and weapons loads to be “affordably” effective against the most common threat systems of that era past – legacy Soviet Cold War era weapons, not for the 21st Century emerging threats.

The F-35 is designed primarily to support ground forces on the battlefield with some self defence capabilities and is not suitable for the developing regional environment and, not suitable for air superiority/close air support missions. The aircraft is unsuited for bomber and cruise missile defence due to limited range/endurance, limited agility, limited weapons load and limited supersonic speed. As its limitations are inherent to the design, they cannot be altered by incremental upgrades.

The F-35 will be ineffective against the current generation of extremely powerful advanced Russian and Chinese systems, as detailed above; In any combat engagements between the F-35 and such threat systems, most or all F-35 aircraft will be rapidly lost to enemy fire.

If you have the F-35s that just aren’t capable of dealing with the high threat zones, it just doesn’t do you any good of going ahead with the failed program and sink the money. Because the F-35 will be increasingly expensive aircraft that will fail the air defence program.

The F/A-18E/F is still no better either to replace its ageing F-16A/B Fighting Falcon fleet.

There was a damning report of the Super Hornet in areas of critical operational requirements, while praising it for its improved aircraft carrier capabilities when compared to the original F/A-18A-D Hornet - something not high on our list of essential criteria.

Three sentences on page eight of the report say it all: "The consequences of low specific excess power in comparison to the threat are poor climb rates, poor sustained turn capability, and a low maximum speed. Of greatest tactical significance is the lower maximum speed of the F/A-18E/F since this precludes the ability to avoid or disengage from aerial combat. In this regard, the F/A-18E/F is only marginally inferior to the F/A-18C/D, whose specific excess power is also considerably inferior to that of the primary threat, the MiG-29."

The F/A-18E/F has a similar performance deficiences to the F-35 which the aircraft has a short range and does not have the performance envelope of a true air superiority fighter compared to the large fighters (with high capability). They will be outclassed by the Su-27/30 Flanker family of fighters by most regional nations in all key performance parameters, aerodynamic, bigger weapons payload, radar / sensor performance by widely available fighters.

Apart from the Su-27/30 family of Russian fighters proliferating across the regions: the F/A-18E/F is acknowledged in the report as being no match for even the older and newer MiG-29 family. Space precludes quoting the report's comments on the multitude of other areas where the Super Hornet is inferior to the 1970s-designed and 1980s-built original F/A-18 aircraft. Admittedly the Block II Super Hornet has a new APG-79 AESA radar and some electronic components not in the version Coyle gave evidence on, but the fundamental airframe and performance remain unaltered: it is heavier, slower, larger and uglier (its radar signature did not measure up to expectations) than the normal Hornet.

Evidently the underwing aero-acoustic environment and resulting vibrations are so violent that some weapons are being damaged in transit to the target on a single flight - dumb bombs are fine in that environment but not long-range missiles containing sophisticated and relatively delicate components. To me there is nothing super about this Hornet; perhaps "Super Dog" is a better descriptor.

The JAS-39E/F Gripen NG? – Is another underpowered aircraft like the F/A-18E/F.

Guest's picture

The Danish Government should in fact consider other option of the new F-16E/F Block 60 or Block 62 before the production line ceases around in 2016.

Amicus Curiae's picture

There is always the alternative to back down and let others lead (or intimidate). The USAF backed down many years ago when F-22 production was terminated early. Denmark is showing the same inclination. Acknowledge the Sukhoi superiority, back down, and fly Gripens so the Russians don't get mad at them.

Pariscomm's picture

The US and its partners are facing a fighter deficit if they persist in putting their hopes in the various versions of the F-35. They have been held hostage by a superb Lockheed spin machine that continues to spew out false hopes for the eventual success of this failed system. Northrop's F-23 could be revived and updated, perhaps even navalized but not in STOL OR VTOL versions. This platform is still superior to everything out there except the F-22. Inexplicably the Air Force failed to upgrade the F-15. Northrop has managed its B-2 program fairly well, at least it works properly. There are few viable options for a 5th generation fighter without returning to the drawing board which would be time consuming and even more expensive. If Northrop preserved the tooling for the F-23 , bring it back! Making a Super Harrier makes more sense. Marines don't need stealth for ground support.

kirk's picture

The answer for US is simple: lots and lots of upgraded F-16s, A-4s and OV-10s. No need for stealth manned fighters when missiles and drones can do those jobs better. The US hasn't been in a dogfight since the 1970s. (if you say anything about Libya in the 80s or Desert Storm you need to stab yourself in the face with a spork. Those weren't dogfights.)
"Quantity has a quality all it's own."

Guest's picture

@ Kirk

How about acquire more advanced F-15s instead of just acquiring lots and lots of F-16s.

kirk's picture

F-15s are more expensive and have a massive fuel burn rate. The F-16 is easier to maintain and has longer range than F-15 when both are with or without external tanks.

bob's picture

it might sound a bit superficial but this aircraft has looked like a bloated dud from the outset. it just doesn't look as though it has capacity claimed for it.
lockheed martin may well have effectively tarnished the usa's long standing good name in exported military hardware, by leaving all the foriegn buyers in the deep end when their regional competitors go online new generation fullbacks & flankers this decade.

superraptor's picture

Look at the T-50 and J-20. Amazing planes.
By cancelling the F-22, the US have signaled defeat. The F-35 wins fights on a power point slide, but remains an engineering disaster. In the future, the US will not be able to protect its European Allies.
Denmark and other European Countries including Germany should explore participating in the Russian/Indian T-50 project to acquire a truly competitive fighter for the future. And Europe should develop its own nuclear deterrence as the US is on the Global Zero path thanks to our great leader and its nuclear umbrella will be no more.

Guest's picture

F-15s are not as expensive than the F-35 and don't have a massive fuel burn rate. Yes the F-16 is easier to maintain but it has shorter range than F-15 when both are with or without external tanks.

At $100M (est) per plane, it may seem expensive but when all costs vs performance are reviewed, X vs Y vs Z are not the same. As stated by those in this discussion thread the F-15 provides, longer range, bigger weapons load and speed benefits that other small fighters a.k.a F-16, Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen and Super Hornet albeit less expensive cannot match. In turn, many of the new enhancements such as the fly by wire flight controls, and the availability of F110-GE-132 or under development F100-PW-232 engines should keep operating costs at or below the known costs.

Guest's picture

At $100M (est) per plane, it may seem expensive but when all costs vs performance are reviewed, X vs Y vs Z are not the same. As stated by those in this discussion thread the F-15 provides, longer range, bigger weapons load and speed benefits that other small fighters a.k.a Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen and Super Hornet albeit less expensive cannot match. In turn, many of the new enhancements such as the fly by wire flight controls, and the availability of F110-GE-132 or under development F100-PW-232 engines should keep operating costs at or below the known costs.

Guest's picture

Kirk,

At $100M (est) per plane, it may seem expensive but when all costs vs performance are reviewed, X vs Y vs Z are not the same. As stated by those in this discussion thread the F-15 provides, longer range, bigger weapons load and speed benefits that other small fighters a.k.a F-16, Typhoon, Rafale, Gripen and Super Hornet albeit less expensive cannot match. In turn, many of the new enhancements such as the fly by wire flight controls, and the availability of F110-GE-132 or under development F100-PW-232 engines should keep operating costs at or below the known costs.

No, the F-15s are not as expensive and doesn't have a massive fuel burn rate. Yes the F-16 is easier to maintain but it has shorter range than F-15 when both are with or without external tanks.

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