Modernization of European Air Forces

F-35 operators

Many Air Forces in Europe are currently getting a modern fleet of fighter jets. Mostly 4.5 generation or even 5th generation fighter jets are being bought at the moment.

This is the fighter aircraft shopping list of EU countries, Norway and Switzerland:

  • Switzerland plans to buy 22 Saab Gripen E (Swiss population voted against the purchase)
  • Austria currently operates 15 EADS Eurofighter Typhoon (Eurofighter are 4.5 generation fighter jets)
  • Germany will buy a total of 140 EADS Eurofighters, about half of it are delivered already
  • Italy bought 62 Eurofighters and plans to order a number of 5th generation fighter jets: 60 F-35A and 15 F-35B
  • Great Britain operates 86 Eurofighters (total will be 160) and plans to buy 50 Lockheed Martin F-35B to operate from Aircraft carriers
  • Spain got 36 Eurofighters (total will be 70) and plans to buy 28 F-35A and 32 F-35B Lightning II
  • Netherlands plans to buy up to 85 5th generation F-35A stealth fighter jets
  • Norway ordered 48 F-35A
  • Denmark thinks about buying 25-35 F-35A
  • Sweden plans to buy 80 Gripen E, but will only modernize the fleet if Switzerland participates
  • Finland currently does not plan to modernize the fleet of 62 Boeing F-18C/D
  • France operates 94 Rafale and plans to buy a total of 266
Now what is interesting here? The first thought is that the countries currently suffering from the European sovereign-debt crisis have the largest shopping list: Countries like Spain, Italy and also France plan to buy a lot of very expensive aircraft – the stealthy 5th generation Lockheed Martin F-35 or the Dassault Rafale. In case of France it is to support the own defense industry as Dassault struggles to find export customers despite the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy was seen as the “chief of the sales department” of Dassault. He even tried to sell the Rafale to Muammar Ghaddafi before be bombed him with Rafales along with some allies a few years later.
The sporty size of the fleet was planned before the crisis, it seems this shows the lack of budget discipline these countries obviously have. Northern countries on the same hand do not buy the latest or best fighter aircraft (Sweden, Switzerland, Finland) or operate small fleets (Austria). By the way: Greece also planned to buy F-35s for the Hellenic Air Force.

Turkish Air Force will be the largest Air Force within NATO in Europe

The largest fighter jet fleet by 2020 will be the Turkish Air Force: It currently operates 215 F-16 Fighting Falcon, and a couple of F-4s and F-5s. Furthermore, Turkey wants to order as many as 116 F-35A, it is a level 3 partner in the Joint Strike Fighter program. Turkey is also thinking about developing an own fighter jet with Sweden’s Saab or South Korea’s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) to be less dependent of the United States in the future. The current Turkish Air Force fighter jet fleet consists of US fighter aircraft only.

Russian Air Force with a massive fleet Upgrade

The Russian Air Force currently operates the following fighter jets:

  • – 10 Mikoyan MiG-25 Foxbat
  • – 200 MiG-29 Fulcrum
  • – 34 MiG-29SMT Fulcrum E
  • – 100 MiG-31 Foxhound
  • – 150 Sukhoi Su-24M Fencer, 110 Su-24MR, 40 Su-24M2
  • – 110 Su-25 Frogfoot
  • – 60 Su-25SM
  • – 200 Su-27SM, 30 Su-27M2, 20 Su-33, 15 Su-34, all Flankers and Flanker variants 

The Russians plan to buy and operate by 2020:

  • – 24 naval MiG-29K/KUB to operate from Aircraft Carriers (classified as 4++)
  • – 30 Su-30SM
  • – 114 Su-34
  • – 60 Sukhoi Su-50 PAK FA 5th generation stealth Aircraft

From the current Russian Fighter aircraft, many will be retired by 2020, among them older MiG-29 Fulcrum, Su-24 Fencers and Su-27 Flankers. Those are the fighter jets operated in large numbers today. At the same time, the Su-25 Frogfoot and the MiG-31 Foxhound will be modernized.

It seems that the shift of economic power is mirrored by the air defence in Europe.

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