The Danish Fighter Decision and Its Significance


2016-05-15 By Robbin Laird

In April 2015, the Sir Richard Williams Foundation of Australia cohosted a symposium on Integrating Innovative Airpower with the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen.

The symposium was being held as the Danes were being threatened by the Russians in rather dramatic terms – if the Danes were to participate in the NATO missile defense system, then their ships were subject to direct strike by the Russians, including with the use of nuclear weapons against them.

That focused attention.

The discussion of airpower went from an abstract discussion to a more immediate one: as Denmark considered its replacement aircraft to the F-16, which choice best enhanced their chances for deterrence and survival against the Bear?

Put in blunt terms, choosing a new combat fighter was not a beauty contest but part of building effective deterrence against threats near and far.

And nothing the Russians have done since that symposium has moved to attenuate Danish concerns, quite the opposite.

With the strengthening of Russian forces in Kaliningrad, which has heightened not only Danish but Swedish, Finnish and Norwegian concerns, to the Russian response to a very limited missile defense system being deployed in Europe, Russian actions enhanced the importance of making a strategic — deterrent and survival — decision.

On May 12, 2016, the Danish government made a decision to select the F-35 as their fighter replacement choice and released a summary of their decision and the reasons for it.

The Danish MoD and the Danish Air Force are a serious professional force and their discussion and evaluations have meaning beyond their own decision as well.

Danish Fighter Aircraft Evaluation

Danish Fighter Aircraft Evaluation_Page_1

In the words of the report entitled “Type Selection of Denmark’s New Fighter Aircraft,” the focus of the process of evaluation was as follows:

In order to provide the best possible basis for a political decision on the fighter aircraft type selection, the three candidates have been evaluated within four specific areas:

Strategic aspects: the ability of the candidates to support or fulfil overarching Danish defence and security policy objectives, including the potential for cooperation with other countries.

Military aspects: the ability of the candidates to successfully conduct fighter missions (mission effectiveness), the candidates’ survivability, opportunities for keeping the aircraft operational and technically relevant within its expected lifespan (future development) as well as the risks associated with each candidate that cannot be economically quantified (candidate risk).

Economic aspects: the estimated life cycle costs of the candidates, including costs associated with procurement, ongoing operations and sustainment as well as quantifiable risks.

Industrial aspects: the ability of the candidates to support significant Danish security interests through industrial cooperation with the Danish defence industry.

The final evaluation results for the three aircraft evaluated, namely F-35, Eurofighter and Super Hornet were as follows:


According to Gary Schaub, Jr., who along with Air Vice Marshal (Retired) John Blackburn of the Williams Foundation, co-hosted the April 2015 airpower seminar on behalf of the Centre for Military Studies at the University of Copenhagen in Copenhagen:

The Ministry of Defence’s evaluation of the 3 candidate aircraft will send shockwaves through the military aviation market.

After careful consideration in an externally validated process, it concluded that the F-35A Joint Strike Fighter dominated the F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon in all four categories that were considered: military performance, acquisition and life-cycle costs, industrial benefits, and strategic considerations—primarily the “ability … to support or fulfill Danish defence and security policy objectives, including potential cooperation with other countries.”  

This is shocking, especially regarding costs.

It has been long assumed that the F-35 was more expensive that its competitors, but the Danes’ evaluation concluded that its 8,000 flight hour lifespan gave it a significant advantage over the 6,000 hours indicated by Boeing for the F/A-18 and Eurofighter for the Typhoon.  

So did the relative size of the F-35 fleet, the efficiencies promised in its autonomic logistics information system (ALIS), and the Dane’s conclusion that a fleet of 28 F-35s could perform national tasks to the same degree as 34 Typhoons or 38 F/A-18s.

The first panel seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Jackobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force. Credit Photo: SLD
The first panel from the Copenhagen Airpower Conference, April 17, 2016 seen left to right, Dr. Gary Schaub, CMS, Dr. Peter Jackobsen, Royal Danish Defence College, and Col. Anders Rex, Royal Danish Air Force. Credit Photo: SLD

Furthermore the conclusion that the F-35 will result in more valuable industrial cooperation than that offered by Boeing and Eurofighter suggests that Lockheed-Martin’s decades of effort to build a network of secondary suppliers for the F-35 under conditions outside of partner nations’ industrial offset requirements has paid off.

The military performance criteria considered five standard mission sets were broadly representative of those any tactical combat aircraft would face.  

The Danes concluded that the F-35’s survivability and mission effectiveness–derived from its stealthiness, advanced avionics systems, and sensor fusion made it more survivable and effective at accomplishing its missions than the F/A-18 or Typhoon overall.

Finally, while the F-35’s ability to sustain strategic relations with Denmark’s key ally—the United States—was expected to make it the preponderant favorite, it was the community of users that weighed most heavily in the Danish assessment.  

The community of users around the F/A-18, also an American product, was deemed to be both small and geographically removed from Denmark, thus making cooperation more difficult.  

The Eurofighter Typhoon, made and used by a consortium of Denmark’s NATO allies, thus scored higher in the evaluation, but not as high as the F-35.

Overall, the F-35 was the dominant choice of the Danish government.  

Whether the parliament, which will consider the government’s recommendation in the coming weeks, draws the same conclusions remains to be seen.

Hans Tino Hansen of the Copenhagen-based Risk Intelligence firm added:

What has been somewhat forgotten in the debate is that the F-35 project in many ways resembles the F-16 project as we are in it with most of the same countries that we shared development, spares, weaponry and mid-life update programs with for 40 years now.

In addition, the UK, which Denmark has had very close ties with in Iraq and Afghanistan for almost 15 years, is fully in the project and the RAF — which Denmark has not shared combat aircraft types with since the Hawker Hunter — will be an important partner.

The other main contender, the Super Hornet, is not used by any airforce Denmark cooperates closely together with.

Commentators have been surprised that the F-35 should come out as the cheapest option and some have questioned the life-cycle period of 30 years, which is ironic as the F-16s are closing in on 40 years.”

The cost and modernization issues are important considerations in the Danish decision as well where the F-35 came in as the best candidate aircraft.

Life Cycle Costs

According to the report summary:

The estimated life cycle costs are lowest for the Joint Strike Fighter, second-lowest for the Super Hornet and the highest for the Eurofighter.

The reason is primarily that the airframe of the Joint Strike Fighter is designed to be capable of flying 8,000 hours, whereas the Eurofighter and the Super Hornet are both designed to fly 6,000 hours.

In order to perform the required portfolio of tasks over a period of 30 years, fewer Joint Strike Fighter airframes are therefore required compared to the Eurofighter or the Super Hornet. The calculations in the economic model have identified a need for 28 Joint Strike Fighter airframes, 34 Eurofighter airframes and 38 Super Hornet airframes, respectively, in order to perform the same portfolio of tasks.

Another reason is that the Super Hornet is a two-seat aircraft, which implies a greater need for flight instruction hours and training of crews than the Eurofighter and the Joint Strike Fighter.

Furthermore, the Eurofighter has higher maintenance costs per flight hour than the Joint Strike Fighter and the Super Hornet. The procurement price per aircraft is the highest for the Eurofighter.

The father of the 5th generation aircraft approach clearly sees the Danish decision as a further step in enabling a new approach to global airpower, namely a fifth generation enabled combat fleet.

According to Mike Wynne, who was involved significantly in the F-35 program as director of acquisition and as the 21st Secretary of the Air Force:

I congratulate the Danish authorities, Civilian and Military for the thoroughness of the evaluation.

Even since 2014, circumstances have moved around the world, and at the top of the world, the Arctic. Impingements on NATO have stimulated and stressed strategic plans. The economic future remains worrisome, and therefore pressures on budgeting necessitate good decisions for prudent and open decisions.

So, to start, well done on the Review and Evaluation.

The outcome of the evaluation places the Danish forces at the edge of the new battlefields for tomorrow and challenges their and their allies to adapt to new ways to employ and deploy the Joint Strike Fighter. It can push the operators beyond being pilots into the realm of battle management across the military domains.

Because of the Danish experience with user groups on other platforms, they already know that there is no loss of control as airmen around the world offer suggestions for operational concepts and design changes that can be applied fleet wide or at the discretion of each Nation.

As well, given that this platform is truly software upgradeable, opportunities for smart Danish engineers to offer design solutions, and faster, or more precise ordnance alternatives will be available throughout the operating cycle.

Secretary Wynne, Ed Timperlake and Karen Roganov, then PAO of the 33rd FW During Our Visit to the Warlords September 2013. Credit: SLD
Secretary Wynne, Ed Timperlake and Karen Roganov, then PAO of the 33rd FW During Our Visit to the Warlords September 2013. Credit: SLD

We have seen thus far a very different and purer form of interoperability with service, support, and maintenance being offered between National operators. Training is already aimed at the total coalition, and integrated operations to force multiply under duress brings memories of long ago.

These are elements in an evaluation that are elusive, and can only be forecast for Danish forces based on current operator activities.

Much the same can be said for simulators that reach across borders to enhance fighting and maintenance training.

Effectiveness measures cannot be rigorously calculated, but the impact from the decision to move into the future with the Joint Strike Fighter places them in a uniquely integrated team focused on the future.

The industrial component is important, and can only be extrapolated from the experience of prior programs and the Research and Development phase of the Joint Strike Fighter.

That said, a reliance on competitive behavior of Danish Industry, and the inventiveness of Danish engineering and software development will both challenge and reward. Here again, outcome effectiveness is the key measure.

So, congratulations both to Lockheed Martin and the Joint Strike Fighter team to have another long-term customer to delight, and serve.

Congratulations to the Danish Air Force and Defense Ministry for a solid evaluation, and a future to grow into.

All the best for success.

And Ed Timperlake, who presented at the Danish Airpower Symposium in April 2015, adds a final comment:

The consequences for America and Canada in the selection of F-35, is that the Danes in addition to focusing on the strategic survival of their citizens in the  current “Tron” War with Russia, which could go nuc hot with missiles have added a significant contribution to the “2 O’Clock” KIll Web to help defend North America as well.

It is not difficult to find Greenland, a Danish defense responsibility, in the 2:00 area.

This is a notional rendering of the 10 and 2 O'Clock challenge. It is credited to Second Line of Defense and not in any way an official rendering by any agency of the US government. It is meant for illustration purposes only.
This is a notional rendering of the 10 and 2 O’Clock challenge. It is credited to Second Line of Defense and not in any way an official rendering by any agency of the US government. It is meant for illustration purposes only.

Editor’s Note: A key consideration in the Danish decision which has been largely ignored by the press has been the 8,000 hour life-cycle for the F-35.

We wrote about this earlier.

“Scientists dream about doing great things. Engineers do them” wrote James Michener in his book Space. The quote originated from one of the legendary American Aeronautical Engineers, Jack Runckel who began with NACA before WWII and finished with NASA. As many history books state: During World War II, NACA was described as “The Force Behind Our Air Supremacy.”

Two very experienced US combat aviators — Lt, Gen. Jon Davis, USMC Deputy Commandant for Aviation and Rear Admiral Mike Manazir USN Director Air Warfare — were given the opportunity to make comments at a Navy League event on Capitol Hill and they covered many issues, but none more important than getting on with upgrading the Naval Aviation fleet.

“Naval aviation forces from the sea base have never been more relevant,” said RADM Mike Manazir, director of Air Warfare for the chief of naval operations.

Manazir said the budget caps imposed in 2013 by the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011 and government shut-down and hiring freeze had a five-year impact on aviation readiness, particularly depot-level maintenance, that will take the service to 2018 to recover from as it increases the service life of Hornet strike fighters to 67 percent beyond their design service life.

LtGen Jon Davis, deputy commandant for Aviation at Marine Corps Headquarters, said Marine Corps aviation is “very busy right now,” seeing little slowdown following the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014, noting that all of its combat aircraft types are engaged in operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. He praised the V-22 tiltrotor aircraft and the recent performance of the F-35B during sea trials of the first operational F-35 squadron.

The V-22 “is giving us unmatched reach,” Davis said. “We have a real winner,” he said of the F-35B.

Davis said the challenge of sustaining older aircraft while buying new ones requires a finely tuned budget balance.

“I can’t stop buying new while taking care of the old,” he said.

There is clear concern with the cost and operational capabilities of sending older Hornets to depots because of the challenge of dealing with significant corrosion in those airframes.

There is no fountain of youth for older tactical aircraft air frames and certainly no low cost solution for safety and security as well.

One of the most overlooked features in the current discussion of the F-35 aircraft, which will soon be declared to have achieved Initial Operational Capability, is the fact that it was designed from the start with an additional 2000 hours of service.

This was stressed in the Capitol Hill discussion mentioned above.