The F-35 Will Give Poland A More Advanced Air Force Than Some Major NATO Allies

June 24, 2020 - This past January, the Polish government took the bold step to acquire thirty-two F-35A Joint Strike Fighters (JSF). Poland is becoming a major player in NATO. It is working to modernize its air, sea and land forces. It is also forging closer relations with the United States, hosting U.S. forces, allowing the prepositioning of military equipment, and working to improve interoperability. By making the decision to buy the F-35, Poland will leap ahead of a number of its European allies, most notably France and Germany, and enter the elite group of countries operating fifth- generation aircraft.

The F-35 will not only be America’s premier fifth generation fighter, but the world’s. From its inception, the JSF was going to be an international fighter. The F-35 Consortium, consisting of the United Kingdom, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, and until recently Turkey, contributed more than $4 billion towards the program’s development costs. The aerospace industries in each of these countries also contributed critical technologies. Current estimates for international purchases are between 600 and 700 JSFs.

If all the NATO members currently planning to acquire the JSF fulfill their commitments, the F-35 will constitute NATO’s single biggest fighter fleet, ahead of the Franco-German-British Eurofighter. This will provide a major boost to air power interoperability for the Alliance.

The move from the current fourth-generation platforms to fifth-generation is both inevitable and urgent. There is a general consensus that fourth-generation aircraft have decreasing survivability in the face of advanced, integrated air-defense networks. Efforts to sustain the ability of older aircraft to penetrate increasing lethal defenses will require larger force packages and the extensive use of scarce support assets, such as airborne jammers. Given that NATO air forces will also be fighting outnumbered, with their infrastructure under continuous attack from long-range-fire systems, this is a losing proposition.

The F-35 will inevitably become the centerpiece of NATO’s air capability. Fifth-generation aircraft with low-observable features, commonly referred to as “stealthiness,” and an array of advanced sensors are able not only to counter advanced air defenses, thereby restoring the West’s erstwhile advantage in the air, but improve the performance and survivability of fourth-generation aerial platforms. Employing its sophisticated suite of sensors, the JSF can pass high-quality, near-real-time targeting information to fourth-generation platforms operating at a distance from high-threat air defenses. In addition, with its revolutionary array of sensors and computers, the F-35 can serve as both a penetrating ISR and stand-in electronic warfare platform.

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