Translated from the original German:

F-35: High-tech fighter jet or $ 1.5 trillion disaster?

It is the most expensive military aircraft procurement program in the world: F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter , as the official name implies, is that of Lockheed Martin for the US Air Force ( USAF ), US Navy ( USN ) and US Navy Corps ( USMC ) jointly developed a stealth fighter-bomber of the 5th generation to replace the F-15 Eagle , F-16 Falcon , F-18 Hornet , AV-8B Harrier II and A-10 Warthog in the US Air Force. While the ‘A’ version of the USAF conventionally launches and lands (CTOL: Conventional Take-Off and Landing), the ‘B’ is a short-launching and vertically-landing variant specially developed for the USMC and its amphibious assault ships (STOVL Short Take-Off and Vertical Landing) while the ‘C’ version is used by aircraft carriers of the USN (CV: Carrier Variant). By the year 2070, the procurement, operation and maintenance of the approximately 2,400 fighter aircraft will cost approximately $ 1.5 trillion. Compared to 4th generation fighter jets, the F-35 alone is about 30-40% more expensive to maintain, according to a recent USN study.

By US Government (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons

The F-35 should become an export hit

In contrast to the stealth air superiority fighter F-22 Raptor , the F-35 was and is intended for export from the start. Eight other countries are not only buying the F-35, but are also actively involved in the overall project financing and construction of the fighter aircraft: the United Kingdom, Italy, Australia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Turkey. Israel has a special position in the project because it is the only country that is able to equip the F-35 with its own avionics and software and is responsible for the maintenance itself. After all, Japan and Korea are pure buyer countries. Despite this international cooperation, the project is seven years behind schedule and has so far exceeded $ 163 billion over the original budget. Each ‘A’ fighter jet currently costs around $ 95 million, ‘B’ and ‘C’ around $ 120 million. At the beginning of the development phase, the planners still have an 80% match of the components for the ‘A’,, B and ‘C’ had planned variants to reduce maintenance costs, depending on the version, only 27 to 43% remained. Reasons for this were, among other things, the wishes of the USMC for a STOVL capability to replace the obsolete, vertically launching AV-8B fighter jets, as well as the USN for larger, folding wings with more fuel and a reinforced landing gear for use on aircraft carriers. The USAF was initially a bit more frugal: they initially only wanted to replace their F-16 and A-10, where there was still the procurement of a larger number of F-22 planned, which then later for cost reasons could not be realized. The resulting gap in air superiority fighters is now also closing the F-35 for the USAF.

A F-35B Prepares for a Vertical Landing on USS America – By Lance Cpl. Dana Beesley ( [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The German Air Force wants the F-35 as a replacement for Tornado

At the end of last year, the former Luftwaffe inspector Karl Müllner pleaded indirectly for the F-35 as a replacement for the outdated 85 German Tornado multipurpose combat aircraft. The Luftwaffe, according to Müllner, needed a fighter aircraft that could fight enemy targets from a distance with low radar signature. For a complete new development, it was already too late. The Ministry of Defense, in contrast, said it would favor a further developed Eurofighter Typhoon as a replacement for the Tornado and is likely to be subordinate to sourcing the F-35, F-15 or F / A-18. General Müllner was prematurely retired on 29.5.2018. Procurement is politically and militarily delicate, if only because the German tornadoes are intended for so-called nuclear participation .While the US fighters all have a release to drop the corresponding B-61 atomic bombs (F-15, F-18) or soon will own (F-35 presumably from 2020), the Eurofighter, apart from the still to be created technical requirements to get a corresponding release from the US government at all. For this, the US would demand insight into the technical specifications and documents of the Eurofighter, which is unlikely to be fair to the European project partners for competitive reasons alone.

Eurofighter Typhoon EF2000 (reg 30 + 68) of the German Air Force (German Air Force, Tactical Air Force Squadron 74) at ILA Berlin Air Show 2016 – Julian Herzog [GFDL or CC BY 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Is the F-35 the right aircraft for the German Air Force?

But would the F-35A, which experts also refer to as mockingly known as a ‘flying computer’, really be a suitable successor to the Tornado of the Luftwaffe? Should not the Defense Department rely on a Eurofighter modified for ‘nuclear sharing’, or better still buy the proven F-18 Super Hornet ? Of course, in an armaments project of this size, the critics speak out immediately. In the F-35, the opinions are mainly ignited by the attempt of the manufacturer Lockheed Martin, not only to develop a fighter aircraft for three different forces and their specific requirements, but also a variety of older aircraft types for the tasks air superiority (F-15) To replace Multipurpose (F-16), Close Air Support (A-10), Vertical Sweeper (AV-8B), and Bomber and Electronic Warfare (F / A-18). A project that had to be doomed from the start because of its complexity, but now too big and too expensive to really fail? It is unusual that the manufacturer Lockheed Martin was granted when placing an order to produce a variety of ‘pre-production models’ in the test and trial phase (so-called ” concurrency “) and deliver them to the US armed forces (as of July 2018: 305 + Piece), instead of recording the production after the series maturity of a smaller number of prototypes (“fly before you buy”).

US Air Force F-35A maneuvers to refuel from a KC-135 – By MSgt John Nimmo Sr. (Public Domain), via Wikimedia Commons

Report of the internal audit of the Pentagon on the F-35 is sobering

The US Department of Defense Director of Operational Test & Evaluation oversees US Army procurement to ensure compliance with the contracted technical and safety requirements for all types of weapons systems. These include reports and reviews on the progress and status of the F-35 Project by the Joint Program Office ( JPO ) development department for the fiscal years 2016 and 2017 are – to put it mildly – very sobering: in the current 2017 test report, the DOT & E notes that the operational suitability of the F-35 lags behind the requirements and expectations of the armed forces so far not fulfill.In some cases, deployments could only be flown through technically unforeseen workarounds. The sourcing program is currently delivering F-35 without the abilities that are needed to tackle current threats. The countrywide availability rate of the F-35 fleet has remained at an unacceptable 50% since October 2014, although more and more machines have been put into service since then. Also, the technical reliability of the delivered aircraft stagnate, so that an acceptable threshold for the average flight time to the occurrence of a critical error actually only by the complete redevelopment of faulty aircraft components in the future can be achieved.

JSF maintainer – US Air Force photo / Chrissy Cuttita (Public domain)

DOT & E has identified a total of 301 major (software) bugs including targeting, weapon integration, survivability, mission planning , cybersecurity, ALIS software and maintainability in its report. Of these, at least 88 are in the ‘processing’, the remaining 213 errors remain unresolved. These serious defects do not allow the confirmation of the conditional or basic operational readiness by DOT & E necessary for the start of mass production of the F-35. Nevertheless, in order to continue the construction of other, not fully operational F-35, the JPO now wants to officially complete the development phase and move into a “continuous capability development and delivery phase”. However, in its 2017 report, the internal audit reports serious concerns about this approach.Probably also because a considerable number of F-35 with different equipment exist through simultaneous development, prototype tests and pre-series production. The already mentioned start-up test for the start of series production will probably not be possible until the end of 2019. By then, however, more than 600 aircraft have been built and delivered. These must all be retrofitted later, which in turn will trigger significant costs. The USAF had therefore seriously considered 108 delivered, fully paid F-35A pre-series models not even to update (so-called “Concurrency Orphans”), which has now been rejected, however.

F-35 maintenance – US Air Force Photo / Senior Airman Andrea Posey (Public domain)

Software is the ‘Achilles heel’ of the F-35

On the one hand, the capabilities of the F-35 are determined by its technical features and built-in electronics (including 31 IBM PowerPC processors with 75,000 MIPS), while the underlying software for control and operation is a key capability feature.Individual stages of development are summarized in blocks, which can also have subdivisions depending on the partial force. Block 1 describes “first-hour” aircraft built for training and testing purposes, while Block 2 already provided basic weapon functions, while Block 3F represents the current software release. The internal programming of the F-35 includes more than 8 million lines of software code, more than four times as many as the F-22. If one considers the rule of thumb that even with sensitive armament jobs per 1,000 lines of code a programming error occurs, then it is unsurprising that for the current version of the Block 3F R6 software, declared conditionally operational, the 31st update is now available, followed by more become.The Block 3F software was initially too unreliable, even for the first test flights. Even with the current version 3F R6.32 programming errors are still being discovered and eliminated.

Figure 4 illustrates the development of the system for the program, the percentage of test points completed by block, and the build-up to full thighting capability with Block 3F – By US Government Accountability Office (Public Domain)

Much more serious, however, is the lack of mission-relevant mission files (MDL). They contain extensive information about, for example, potential targets, enemy fighters, and other potential threats, such as anti-aircraft positions, with their electronic and / or infrared signatures, which must be loaded into the F-35 on-board computer each time before each mission and updated after each deployment. Without this MDL, the F-35 can neither find its goals nor escape potential threats. Your stealth ability depends largely on the MDL to calculate optimal flight paths away from enemy air defense and interceptors. For each area of ​​application, a separate MDL with mission-specific information must be created. In total, at least six such MDLs are needed for worldwide deployment and completion of the testing and testing phase. At least the first MDL for the upcoming series maturity tests in the US should be completed later this year. Only one location in the US is currently able to program the MDL for all F-35s: the US Reprogramming Laboratory (USRL) at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. However, this “lab” alone requires 15 months for an MDL, so theoretically the preparation of the required six MDL would take seven and a half years. This does not include the required updates of already created MDL by the new information obtained after each use of an F-35 on existing or additional targets and threats, to which the USRL so far is not able, because it is with inadequate software and outdated or incomplete hardware works. In order to be able to thoroughly test the created MDL, the USRL also requires special electronics, so-called threat emitters, which generate identical signals as the expected enemy interceptors, radar positions and anti-aircraft missiles in the potential combat zone. According to the DOT & E report, however, the USL lacks the required number of emitters to create a sufficiently populated electronic test environment that would even approximate the currently prevailing global threat scenarios.

Portable maintenance device loaded with joint technical data and plugged into F-35 – US Air Force photo / Maj.Karen Roganov (Public Domain)

Another major weakness of the F-35 project is the ‘Autonomic Logistics Information System’ ( ALIS ), owned and operated by the manufacturer Lookheed Martin. It is a complex computer system consisting of 65 individual programs with 16 million lines of software cords, which continuously collect and analyze aircraft data. It is used, among other things, for operational planning, threat analyzes, maintenance diagnostics and planning, and for the ordering of spare parts. All F-35s, including non-US partner countries or buyers, need to update their mission files along with ALIS profiles before and after each flight. For this purpose, the data are read from each F-35, then sent via the Internet first to the ALIS mainframe to Fort Worth in Texas, which then forwards them to the USRL and Lockheed Martin among others. From there, the updated mainframe data will be sent back to all F-35s, also overseas. If the Internet connection from the USA to Europe, for example, is interrupted by hacker attacks on network nodes or sabotage of the submarine cables, then the ‘F-35’ that has been rejected by the ALIS, eg in Great Britain, Italy and Turkey, will remain grounded until further notice. Because data transmission via satellite is hardly possible because of the high data volume of only a single F-35 squadron, as tests on board the aircraft carrier USS Washington in August 2016 showed. It took two whole days, partly due to tactical ‘dead silence’, limited bandwidth and bad satellite connections to send a 200 MB ALIS file. It remains to be seen how these transmission problems will be resolved in the future when deploying entire squadrons of F-35, B ‘/’ C ‘models on aircraft and amphibious attack vectors. The DOT & E called on the USN extent to further investigations.

F-35C Lightning II carrier variant aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69) – US Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Anderson W. Branch / Released (Public domain)

However, the DOT & E points out further ALIS deficiencies in its audit report. After the last update of the software, the USMC base Yuma in Arizona in June 2017 had to stop the flight operations with all F-35 stationed there completely because, among other things, the engine data was not recorded properly. In addition, ALIS continuously issues incorrect values ​​about the need for repair or repair of components, which then lead to aircraft shutdowns, orders for spare parts and time-consuming but pointless technician assignments. Manual workarounds and interventions by ALIS administrators, now part of the maintenance routine of the mechanics, are required for operations that should have taken place automatically. In previous reports, the DOT & E also criticized the inadequate cyber security of the software and hardware against hacker attacks affecting both the ALIS and the F-35 itself. These well-known weaknesses were not eliminated in the 2017 reporting year. Now the auditor recommends that in view of current cyber threats, ALIS for test flights for the permitted period of up to 30 days better off completely off, but in principle does not correspond to the above-described, necessary interaction of ALIS and the F-35 to effective (combat) To fly stakes. For these reasons as well, Israel has contractually agreed to take over the maintenance of its F-35I ‘Adir , as previously mentioned. There is a legitimate concern about not being able to deploy an F-35 in the middle of a conflict because ALIS has been compromised by cyberattacks. So, whether Israel stays out of the global network with ALIS or installs its own maintenance software is understandably secret.

The F-35I Adir (led by a F-16I Sufa) on its debut flight in Israel, December 2016 – by Major Ofer, Israeli Air Force [CC BY 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

ALIS is not only exposed to cyber threats on the Internet, it also transmits even in the opinion of some JSF partner countries too much operational data after each flight of an F-35 to the US Army and the non-state manufacturer Lockheed-Martin and thus violates the sovereignty of the Project participating countries. For example, Italy, Norway and Australia have decided to restrict the volume of sensitive data to be transferred to the US via ALIS in the future on the software side. In addition, Italy and Norway are building a common software laboratory in the US for programming country-specific mission files. However, the ALIS network also grants the US active control over the F-35s deployed in its partner countries through the distribution of updates and patches of the internal and external F-35 software. In the future, ALIS could also be used by the USA as a “Trojan Horse” in order to record malicious software in the F-35, which may have become disliked partner countries, and paralyze it on the software side.

Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II mock-up instrument panel – By Ahunt (Public Domain)

The target acquisition and weapon systems are limited

The Electro-Optical Targeting System ( EOTS ) is a targeting system based on the Sniper Advanced Targeting Pod, which has been developed for the F-16. In order to preserve the stealth capabilities, an external container was dispensed with, and the EOTS on the bow of the F-35 was integrated into the lower fuselage in a sapphire crystal pulpit. It provides, via the connection to the central computer with the aid of a video camera, an infrared search / tracing system ( FLIR ) and a range / target illumination laser, the target acquisition coordinates required for the on-board weapons during aerial and ground combat. The data thus obtained is transmitted to the pilot directly on the visor of his helmet. A head-up display ( HUD – windscreen projector) is no longer available in the cockpit of the F-35. According to the 2016 DOT & E report, the test pilots agreed that the integrated EOTS was less powerful than that of older 4th generation jets in an external container. Enemies could not be detected and identified at a tactically reasonable distance, targets can not be permanently laser-marked during the attack phase. Environmental influences, such as high humidity, would force the pilots to fly closer to potential targets than would actually be warranted. This would take the F-35’s surprise effect, unnecessarily alert potential enemies, slow down the fire process and expose the F-35 to additional threats in the target area. The 2017 DOT & E report further states that movable ground targets can not be adequately captured with the EOTS. The pilots would have to balance in sighting by means of ‘fist formulas’ technical deficiencies of the EOTS, which is neither effective nor allowed under real combat conditions. Due to the electronics used so far, these deficits of the EOTS can no longer be solved by software improvements alone. Not surprisingly, in September 2015, Lockheed Martin announced an Advanced EOTS with improved technology for the upcoming Block 4 models of the F-35, which will not be ready until 2020.

Electro-optical target sensor (EOTS) on a mock-up of the F-35. Photo taken at RIAT 2007 – by User: Dammit [CC BY-SA 2.5 nl ( 5D, from Wikimedia Commons

The weapon systems do not look much better. The F-35A is equipped with an internal, four-barreled 25mm Gatling gun for its intended air support roller. The weapons tests in 2017 turned out to be firing too far and too far to the right. There were also inaccuracies in the guns carried in separate weapons containers of the ‘B’ and ‘C’ models, albeit not as blatantly as in the ‘A’ version. The bugs have not been fixed in any version so far.
For the AIM-120 long-range air-to-space missile (beyond the visual horizon), weapon testing revealed problems with the F-35’s technical integration and indicators, all of which are confidential. However, the published weapons test protocol shows that test firing of the AIM-120 AMRAAM either completely or partially failed or the evaluation of the results still lasts, whatever that means.
In the air / ground weapons tests, shortcomings have been identified in connection with the EOTS, which prevent the complete and successful passage of the so-called “control loop” consisting of finding, fixing, tracking, aiming, firing and judging, thus making it difficult to use weapons when not even impossible. For example, in the case of precision-guided bombs ( JDAM ), the F-35 pilots were able to check the transmitted, but not the target data actually stored in the bomb. However, combat zone combat rules usually require the pilot to confirm to the Air Force Officer ( FAC ) on the ground prior to firing the weapon the correct target data stored in the precision weapon.

Weapons bay of a mock-up of the F-35. Photo taken at RIAT 2007 – By User: Dammit [CC BY-SA 2.5 nl ( 5D, from Wikimedia Commons

Warning system “DAS” is technically outdated and struggling with production errors

To monitor the airspace around the F-35, a Distributed Aperture System ( DAS ) consisting of six infrared cameras distributed on the front fuselage is used (in the picture below, a DAS camera is directly in front of the cockpit on the bow recognize). It provides the pilot with situational awareness day and night day and night by means of a spherical all-round view, even when looking down through the fuselage of the F-35, with the help of an additional navigation in complete darkness on the helmet mounted night vision camera is possible. In addition, the DAS detects / fights enemy anti-aircraft / radar positions, approaching enemy aircraft, gives the pilot a close friend / foe distinction in the air and independently initiates defense measures against detected threats (infrared decoy, chaff, electronic interference / defense ).
Damaged glass covers on the DAS cameras in 2017 were one of the reasons why F-35 fighter jets were repeatedly deemed non-operational by the USAF, while at least the USN and USMC considered them capable of flight. During night landings, however, it was also found that in connection with the night vision camera on the helmet in complete darkness (new moon, no starlight due to heavy cloud cover, no civilization light), the pilots lost situational awareness due to the poor image / resolution quality of the installed infrared cameras that safe flying or landing was no longer possible for the pilots by means of the DAS / helmet camera transmitted to the helmet visor external view.

F-35A front profile in flight. The gates are opened to expose the aerial refueling inlet valve – By MSgt John Nimmo Sr. [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Several other problems with the F-35 are manifested here: qualitative defects in the production itself (faulty DAS glass covers, technically inadequate night vision camera, too quickly wearing tires, insufficient corrosion protection, mechanically labile tank probe), Due to the overlong testing phase and pre-series production, the currently installed DAS has been in use for more than 10 years and is now considered technically obsolete, similar to the EOTS mentioned above. Manufacturer Lockheed Martin announced in June 2018 , starting from 2023 for the lot 15 a much improved, more efficient and cheaper DAS of the company Raytheon to obstruct. However, since serial production is expected to be launched by then, the F-35 will be deployed in significantly different hardware and software configurations for the US flying forces from the 2020s, including the installation of the improved EOTS or DAS. Whether or not the new electronic components can be seamlessly integrated into the F-35 without additional technical and software-specific problems should be at least doubtful in view of the errors that have occurred so far. In any case, replacement of old and new generation electronic components will be very difficult, but probably not possible, due to the different software versions within the F-35 fleet.

VSI Helmet-mounted display system for the F-35 – By USMC employee [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Field experience with the F-35 paint a completely different picture

Supervisors and regulators in general, but also some of the harshest critics in particular, must be opposed to making judgments “from the green table” on the basis of extensive test protocols without having gained their own experience with the subject of their review or criticism , Major Morten Hanche of the Royal Norwegian Air Force, head of the local F-35 test / evaluation department, has published in 2016 several interesting blog posts about his experiences as a former F-16 and now current F-35 pilot, which the usual, either exaggerated positive or negative excitement is missing. Based on his own experience with the F-35A, he finds the mostly negative interpretations of the DOT & E reports by the media to be exaggerated because they assume entirely unrealistic expectations. For him, a lack of perfection in the F-35 is not a disaster. He believes that compromises must always be made in the development and testing of such a highly complex aircraft as the F-35. For almost every error that occurs, there is either a workaround under operating conditions or you learn to live with it in everyday missionary life. The F-35 works well, even if it does not (yet) meet all specifications. He himself was impressed with the F-35, especially in the areas of speed, service height, range and maneuverability, because these features could not be improved in the future, unlike other shortcomings, simply by software updates. Compared to the F / A-18 Hornet you have the feeling of “flying with four engines”. Also, he could confirm the stealth capabilities of the F-35, which unlike the F-16 was not to be located from a distance. A comparison with mature fourth-generation fighter jets was not appropriate because they had already completed a 40-year development and improvement phase in order to even reach the current level of performance, a “maturity period” that the F-35 would have missed so far , The F-16 was consistently plagued by errors and deficiencies when it was introduced in the 1970s, yet it can be considered one of the most successful fighter aircraft. Selbst heute noch würden die moderneren F-16 der norwegischen Luftwaffe mit Mängeln bei der Avionik, Software und Logistik kämpfen, die nicht behoben werden, weil man deren Ursache bislang nicht ermitteln konnte oder bekannte Probleme aufgrund des fehlenden Kosten-/Nutzenverhältnisses gar ich nicht beseitigen will. Tatsächlich übererfülle die F-35 die an sie gestellten Erwartungen im Einsatz und besitze zudem eine hohe Wahrscheinlichkeit, im Ernstfall Kampfeinsätze auch zu „überleben“, ganz im Gegensatz zu Kampfjets der 4. Generation wie der F-16.

Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, first female F-35 pilot begins training
Lt. Col. Christine Mau, 33rd Operations Group deputy commander, first female F-35 pilot begins training – US Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Marleah Robertson (Public domain)

Ist die F-35 für die Luftwaffe das richtige Flugzeug?

Jedes größere Rüstungsprojekt im militärischen Flugzeugbau hatte bislang mit technischen Problemen, langen Verzögerungen, erheblichen Budgetüberschreitungen und harscher Kritik der Öffentlichkeit zu kämpfen, seien es nun F-15, F-16, F/A-18 auf amerikanischer oder Tornado, A-400 oder Eurofighter auf europäischer Seite. So darf es dann auch nicht überraschen, dass es bei einem so hochkomplexen Waffensystem wie der F-35 nicht anders kommen konnte. Als die F/A-18 bei der USN eingeführt wurde, fehlten ihr die Reichweite und Zuladung der A-7 Corsair sowie die Beschleunigung und Steigrate der F-4 Phantom . Heute ist die F/A-18 das Rückgrat der USN. Liest man beim letzten Bericht des DOT&E aus 2017 auch mal „zwischen den Zeilen“, ist selbst bei einer sehr pessimistischen Prognose davon auszugehen, dass spätestens ab 2025 die F-35 nicht nur die endgültige Serienreife längst erlangt hat, sondern – Dank des Austausches ganzer (elektronischer) Baugruppen und weiterer Software-Updates – auch einen Großteil ihrer technischen Probleme hinter sich gelassen haben dürfte. Dann besitzen die USA einen Kampfjet für das 21. Jahrhundert, mit dem die digitale und vernetzte Kriegsführung nicht nur ein Schlagwort, sondern Realität geworden ist. Auch im Hinblick auf den vermehrten Einsatz von (Letalen) Autonomen Waffensystemen ( LAWS ) im Verbund mit bemannten Kampfjets ist die F-35 die ideale Einsatzplattform zur Steuerung und Überwachung. Natürlich ist sie nicht unsichtbar („stealth“), aber wahrscheinlich doch für die integrierte russische Flugabwehr schwerer zu orten („stealthy“) als eine F/A-18 oder ein modernisierter Eurofighter. Und natürlich wird man mit der F-35 als Mehrzweckkampfflugzeug bei den Einzelaufgaben Luftnahunterstützung, -überlegenheit und -angriff Kompromisse eingehen müssen, aber das ist schon seit der Tornado eigentlich nichts wirklich Neues. Schließlich wird der Preis für die F-35 bis 2025 auf unter 80 Mio. US$ gefallen sein, was sicherlich kein „Schnäppchen“ ist, aber doch deutlich günstiger als die aktuellen 95 Mio. US$. Da viele europäische NATO-Staaten ebenfalls die F-35 angeschafft haben oder anschaffen wollen, wäre erstmals seit langem wenigstens im Bereich der NATO Luftwaffen eine teilweise Harmonisierung beim verwendeten Militärgerät zu verzeichnen, wenn auch zu Lasten der angestrebten Unabhängigkeit Europas von den USA im Verteidigungsbereich.

JSF Family Of Aircraft
By US Government (Public domain)

Wie immer bei großen Rüstungsprojekten gibt es bei der Beschaffung eines solch teueren, technisch komplexen Waffensystems kein einfaches „ja“ oder „nein“. Deutschland wird mit seiner Entscheidung in dieser Frage weder die USA noch Frankreich außen- wie militärpolitisch brüskieren wollen, sind sie doch beide wichtige Bündnispartner innerhalb der NATO und EU. Frankreich hatte bereits angekündigt, beim Kauf der F-35 durch Deutschland die Planung des zukünftigen gemeinsamen europäischen Jagdflugzeuges sofort zu beenden. Andererseits würde der geplante deutsch-französische Kampfjet der 5./6. Generation vermutlich viel zu spät seine Einsatzreife erlangen, um die Tornados der Luftwaffe bis 2025 rechtzeitig abzulösen. Die USA wiederum könnten eine Freigabe des Eurofighters für die nukleare Teilhabe auf 7-10 Jahre hinauszögern, um Deutschland zum Kauf der F-35A zu drängen, mit dem berechtigten Argument, selbst ein modifizierter Eurofighter wäre kein taugliches Trägersystem für amerikanische Atombomben, da er den modernen russischen Flugabwehrsystemen S-400 / S-500 nicht gewachsen sei. Das gleiche Problem besteht beim Tornado aber mittlerweile wohl auch. Am besten also gleich ganz auf die nukleare Teilhabe mit den USA verzichten und mit Frankreich einen gemeinsamen Kampfjet bauen, der dann für Deutschland französische Atombomben ins Ziel tragen würde? Eine Variante, die im Hinblick auf die europäische bzw. deutsche Abhängigkeit vom US Atomschirm für eine glaubhafte nukleare Abschreckung in Europa eher unwahrscheinlich ist.

Aerial refueling of F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters at Eglin AFB, Fla. – By US Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Dann besser doch dem Beispiel der Briten, Dänen, Norweger, Niederländer und Italiener in Europa folgen und eine technisch (bislang noch nicht) ausgereifte F-35 kaufen, die zudem mit hohen Folgekosten für Wartung und Flugbetrieb daher kommt? Oder vielleicht eher eine „salomonische Lösung“, bei der Deutschland für eine geschätzte Übergangszeit von ca. 15 bis 20 Jahren bis zur Serien-/Einsatzreife des geplanten deutsch-französischen Kampfflugzeuges die amerikanische F/A-18 Super Hornet beschafft? Keine einfache politische Entscheidung, die das Verteidigungsministerium in naher Zukunft wird treffen müssen.

Die F-35 ist wohl kein rüstungspolitisches Desaster, auch wenn sie bislang noch nicht alle die in sie gestellten Erwartungen erfüllen kann. Sie ist teuer, dafür aber ein (fast) einsatzbereites Stealth-Mehrzweckkampfflugzeug der 5. Generation, das bis 2025 seine „Kinderkrankheiten“ hinter sich gelassen haben dürfte und der Luftwaffe dann einen erheblichen militärischen Mehrwert liefern könnte. Ich für meinen Teil muss gestehen, dass mein Herz in dieser rüstungspolitischen Frage mehr transatlantisch für die F-35 schlägt als paneuropäisch für einen modifizierten Eurofighter bzw. das Future Combat Air System ( FCAS ).

F-35A im Landeanflug auf die Edwards AFB – US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Julius Delos Reyes (Public domain)


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