Now, we don't even have Portugal left: the neighboring country confirms that it will also buy fifth generation F-35 fighters and Spain is left alone

Spain is left alone in Europe and may become the only Western country, with the exception of France, that maintains its commitment to its own production with its Dassault Rafales, that does not incorporate the American fifth-generation F-35 fighters into its fleet.

The last country to confirm its acquisition has been our neighbor Portugal. Although it had already been announced last November, it has now been confirmed in an interview by the Chief of the General Staff of the Portuguese Air Force, General João Cartaxo Alves, in the Portuguese newspaper Diario de Noticias. According to his words, The transition to the F-35 is crucial for the country. “It is something that is happening, but it is not done in a day. This process has already begun. We had a workshop here with Lockheed and the US Air Force to also learn what this leap to the fifth generation consists of,” said.

Cartaxo added that the transition to a new combat aircraft will last approximately two decades, with an estimated expenditure of 5.5 billion euros. assigned to this program and the first aircraft will be delivered in the next decade, to replace the current F-16.

Although at the end of 2023, the Portuguese Air Force Chief of Staff had already declared that the F-35 was a suitable replacement for its F-16 fleet, the Portuguese Government later clarified that the Portuguese Ministry of Defense had no plans to acquire said plane. There was also no reference to a possible acquisition of the F-35 in Portugal's proposed Military Programming Law (LPM) approved in March 2023, which established major long-term defense acquisitions worth €5.5 billion, the same budget allocated only to the F-35 according to Cartaxo Alves' own words, prioritizing other acquisitions such as the KC-390, a new close air support aircraft.

According to Cartaxo Alves, the purchase of the F-35s aims to stay in line with the majority of European allies that have already begun the transition to the F-35, as part of their strategic efforts. Currently the Portuguese Air Force has 28 F-16s, necessary “to fulfill the commitments we have. And we cannot give them up until we make this transition to the F-35,” added the Portuguese military officer.

“At this moment our F-16s are the same ones that Holland, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands had. What is happening? Obviously we are reaching a point where they have been operating in the Air Force for 30 years (…) We have to replace them, because even if this decision is made now, the first plane will not arrive for another seven years. Of course, we can say that we have the conditions and are in a position to also participate in this effort, if it were. necessary,” explains the general.

At the moment, United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Greece, Switzerland, Czech Republic and even Romania, the second poorest country in the EU, already have F-35s or have announced their intention to acquire them. The avalanche of Lockheed Martin fighter purchases makes manufacturers think that By 2034 there will be more than 600 F-35 units operating in Europe and of those 600, there will only be about 50 who are Americans.

In May 2018, the Israel Defense Forces became the first country to send the F-35 into combat, conducting two airstrikes with an F-35A in the Middle East. In September of that year, the US Marine Corps sent the first F-35Bs to war with strikes on ground targets in Afghanistan. In 2019, the US Air Force used F-35As for airstrikes in Iraq.

Last year it was also known that the Romanian Supreme Defense Council (CSAT) had confirmed the intention to purchase F-35, days after the request for military purchases made by the Ministry of National Defense for a total amount of 10,000 million euros.

The country is one of five that the US identified in a 2019 official report as potential F-35 buyers. Of the others (Singapore, Greece, Poland and Spain), only Spain has not yet announced plans to acquire these aircraft, although it is expected to end up doing so, mainly to have units of the F-35B version, the only ones currently capable of operate on the Spanish ship Juan Carlos I.

Singapore announced last year that it will complete the fleet of a dozen F-35B fifth-generation combat aircraft on which it has been working for three years, since the United States Department of State authorized the operation in January 2020, then estimated at 2,750. millions of dollars, to get these devices. This is the same variant (B), and the minimum number, that the Spanish Navy wants to replace the AV-8B with which it currently operates from the ship Juan Carlos I.

Greece confirmed its entry into this group when in July of last year, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis revealed the “intention to acquire a squadron of F-35s with the possible option of a second,” while Athens sent a letter of approval. request (LoR, as this formula is known by its acronym in English) in which the request for twenty of these fighters is specified to complete that first squadron.

Poland It was the first of the five countries cited by the Pentagon four years ago as potential buyers of the model that confirmed its acquisition. At the beginning of 2020, the US accepted the sale of 32 F-35s to the country for 4.6 billion euros.

Beyond this group of five expected buyers, of which Spain has now remained the only one of them that has not yet confirmed its purchase intention, new F-35 customers have joined in recent months.

Germany and Canada buy it after rejecting it

Germanywhich came to fiercely oppose even talking about a possible purchase of F-35 (even dismissing the head of its air force for doing so) ended last December approving the purchase of 35 units in a package estimated at 10,000 millions of euros.

Czechia officially confirmed last summer the start of the purchase process for 24 F-35s, after the corresponding authorization from the country's council of ministers to its Ministry of Defense.

Finland At the beginning of last year, it formalized the purchase of 64 units of the F-35 to replace its aging fleet of F-18 Hornets.

Swiss decided in 2021 to acquire 36 F-35As for just over 5,000 million francs (more than 5,100 million euros at the current exchange rate)

Canada It has also begun to negotiate with Lockheed Martin the purchase of 88 units of the fifth generation fighter that until a few months ago it refused to acquire, in a case similar to that of Germany. In addition to the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway also have it as the absolute leader, after Turkey was left out in 2019.

Turning our attention to Europe, we therefore see that there are already a dozen countries on the old continent that have the F-35 or are acquiring it. Next could also be Austria, after it emerged a few months ago that its Ministry of Defense had been collecting information to evaluate the purchase from Lockheed Martin. Vienna has been debating for five years about what to do with its current fleet of Eurofighter combat aircraft, of European manufacture, and whose purchase, commissioned in 2003, it was even considered rescinding because the circumstances of its purchase were not clear, although among its possible Plans also include the modernization of the Eurofighter.