The F-35 is Europe’s only option for a younger stealth fighter: the Dassault-Airbus Future Combat Air System project remains two decades away and the UK’s Tempest is planned to come only a few years earlier, in 2035.
Douglas Barrie, senior fellow for military aerospace at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said: “[The F-35 is] the youngest of the aircraft in the competition in design terms, so that has to be an advantage,” he says. “The challenge to the competitors is that they have an upgrade path which keeps their platform relevant and combat capable.”
“The only surprise for me would be if the F-35 didn’t make any more sales in Europe. It’s not a question of if, but a question of when. In many ways, it’s the competitor to beat,” he added. “That’s not to say it’s always going to win.”
High demand for F-35s in Europe would be a major boost for the UK defence industry, which manufactures 15% of the parts for the programme.
One example is BAE Systems, which is a Tier 1 supplier into the stealth fighter programme, and builds the rear section of each F-35 using cutting edge manufacturing technology.
F-35 is the world’s largest defence programme. Led by the US, with participation from the UK, Italy, Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Turkey, it is a collaborative programme aimed at delivering a stealth, multi-role attack aircraft capable of operating from land and sea to nations across the globe.
Britain is a lead partner in the programme, and was one of the factors that led the UK defence industry to set a new record for exports in 2018. Sales of defence products to Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and other Middle Eastern countries also made up nearly 80% of that figure.