Germany is expected to be the next European country to adopt the F-35

Switzerland and Finland have joined the F-35 club, a development that will significantly strengthen any future integrated European force structure. Denmark, Norway, Poland, Italy and the UK have all made measurable progress with their respective F-35 programs. Notably, British F-35s operated with American F-35Bs aboard the Royal Navy’s HMS queen elizabeth carrier. Denmark recently received its first F-35A Lightning II and the Netherlands declared in December that its F-35 fleet was operationally capable. All these recent developments have considerably changed the deterrence equation in Europe. This raises an important question: which European country will join the F-35 club next?

What about Germany?

Germany is a NATO member that could greatly contribute to multinational interoperability if it adopted the F-35. However, in recent years several reports have indicated that German decision makers prefer the Eurofighter Typhoon. One potential reason for this could be Germany’s interest in supporting European manufacturing of Luftwaffe fighter jets.

A previous story in the national interest quotes experts and decision-makers who have highlighted the jobs that would be generated by keeping the Eurofighter. However, recent developments could impact the equation for Germany. First, Lockheed Martin continues to expand its maintenance, manufacturing and supplier base in Europe to support its growing number of F-35 customers. This opens the possibility for European suppliers to subcontract for Lockheed and create thousands of jobs.

Beyond any potential economic impact, there are a growing number of strategic and tactical reasons why Germany could benefit from joining a multinational F-35 force. The F-35’s Multi-Function Advanced Data Link (MADL) provides multinational networking benefits by providing secure connectivity between F-35s of different nations. This dramatically improves sensor-to-shooter times, surveillance data networking, and transmission of targeting information. Additionally, emerging innovations will improve connectivity between 4th and 5th generation aircraft. Improved connectivity will allow these fighters to create a mesh network capable of responding to emerging threats in real time.

Finally, a lot can be said about the differences in capabilities and performance between the Eurofighter Typhoon and the F-35. The F-35 may perform better in terms of stealth characteristics, sensor range and fidelity, computing, and weapons applications. In addition to improving Germany’s interoperability with its NATO allies, a German F-35 fleet would introduce a new level of technological sophistication and scalability for the Luftwaffe. Current thinking suggests that the F-35, with its ability to receive software upgrades that extend its sensing and communications technology, could remain impactful well into the 2070s.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a highly trained expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army – Acquisition, Logistics and Technology. Osborn also worked as an on-air military anchor and specialist on national television networks. He has appeared as a guest military pundit on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also holds an MA in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Picture: Reuters.