European nations should shape their air-combat fleets to support the F-35, US analysts say
Oct. 23, 2020
COLOGNE, Germany — European NATO nations without the fifth-generation F-35 combat jet should mold their fleets to complement the U.S.-developed aircraft in future operations, according to a new report commissioned by U.S. European Command.
The analysis, done by the think tank Rand and published Oct. 22, ascribes such a vital advantage to the F-35′s stealth and sensor-fusion features that the jet would be the only aircraft suitable for an initial contact with Russian forces in the event of a conflict.
Following that logic, European nations that have already signed up for the Lockheed Martin-made jet should hone their tactics toward that initial engagement, and countries with less advanced aircraft should strive to maximize their ability to complement such an operation, the authors argued.
The United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, Belgium and Italy are European NATO members in various stages of getting F-35 aircraft. One tier below that, in the eyes of Rand analysts, are countries like Germany or France whose Eurofighter and Rafale fleets, respectively, have sensors advanced enough to be considered “fourth-generation-plus” aircraft.
The report’s recommendations are based on the hypothetical premise of a Russian land grab on the alliance’s eastern flank.
“One common scenario considers a calculation by the Russian government that Russia could leverage a regional imbalance in ground forces to occupy some slice of NATO territory, employ air defenses to stave off allied air forces, present a fait accompli similar to that seen in Crimea, and politically divide NATO by calling for negotiations,” the document stated.
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