2016-05-27 Earlier this week, the Defence Committee of the Danish Parliament held a hearing on the government’s decision to buy the F-35 as the new fighter aircraft for Denmark.
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
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:
The hearing featured the following panel: Defence Minister Peter Christensen, Head of the New Fighter Office Lone Lindsby, CMS Director Henrik Breitenbauch, Royal Danish Air Force Major Jacob Barfoed (PhD), CMS Senior Researcher Gary Schaub, and Director, Danish Defence & Security Industries at Danish Industry Frank Bill.
The hearing provided an opportunity for the government to present its case for the F-35 downselect.
One of the more interesting points which came out in the hearing was the request that the Defense Minister define the bare minimum of aircraft necessary to perform peacetime “sovereignty” tasks.
He did not respond at the hearing but did so later in writing.
According to an article by Steffen McGhie published on May 26, 2016, the Minister’s response was highlighted and discussed.
If Denmark gives up sending fighter jets on international missions and only focuses on defense readiness against foreign fighter in Danish airspace, the Air Force requires just 15 fighter aircraft.
“The number of new fighter aircraft for the solution of the national peacetime tasks depends on the choice of the type of aircraft. For the Joint Strike Fighter would require a minimum of 15 aircraft.
It is noted that defense readiness alone is a national peacetime task and does not therefore include the possibility of deployment of fighter aircraft in crisis and war-like scenarios, either nationally or internationally,” wrote Defence Minister Peter Christensen (V) in a reply to the parliamentary defense committee.
Thus the defense minister sets a floor for the ongoing political negotiations on the number of fighter aircraft, if Denmark is to remain able to use fighter jets to the enforcement of sovereignty.
However, it is unlikely that the number of fighter aircraft lands on 15. None of the parties in defense of conciliation will talk of dropping the possibility of using fighter aircraft as a tool in the activist foreign policy, which Denmark has pursued since the Gulf War in 1990.
The lowest bid prior to settlement negotiations circuit sounds of 18 and a maximum of 24 fighter planes from SF’s Holger K. Nielsen. At the opposite end of the scale, the Conservative Rasmus Jarlov announced that Denmark should preferably have 40 fighters and at least 30.
According to Gary Schaub, Jr. of the Centre for Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen, the Minister’s response was of interest for it was the first time he has done so in these terms.
It is the first time that the Minister or ministry has given a floor below which they judge the Royal Danish Air Force cannot go. Perhaps not coincidentally, 15 is the number of Typhoons that the Austrian Air Force had to settle for in 2011.
Schaub sent the following response to a member of the Defence Committee to explain the challenge.
My judgment on it is that having 15 would have an impact on their lifespan, the size of the air force’s pilot cadre, and their level of training. Basically, those 15 airframes would be flown a lot more to provide the amount of training necessary to keep the pilots qualified, and so their flight hours would be used up more quickly since they would be concentrated in fewer planes.
Constraining the RDAF to peacetime air patrols would not have a significant effect on the amount of training that the pilots would have to conduct.
Pilots have to fly a required number of hours performing different tasks to keep their “license” current, if you will, and that accounts for the majority of flying hours used by the fleet. In Canada, 80 percent of the flying hours used are for peacetime national tasks, which includes keeping pilots current.
If the decision is made to reduce the amount of training for the pilots, which some countries have done, a number of impacts would follow, including an increased risk of accidents and (of course) a loss of trust in the capabilities of Danish pilots amongst other countries.
In terms of personnel, there will be additional impacts on pilot recruitment & retention.
These guys join because they like to fly and a reduction in flight hours per pilot will make their jobs less rewarding.
Finally, reducing the number of aircraft does not have a significant impact on the investment in infrastructure or maintenance personnel/training/tools/etc, and so the overall saving isn’t as big as one might think.
And the government noted that even if the Super Hornet could get to 9500 hours, the F-35 was both less expensive and a better choice of the missions which the Air Force was being tasked to perform.
If the total number of flying hours for an F/A-18 Super Hornet is changed from 6,000 to 9,500, and the two-seater version, which has been evaluated, replaced with the version with one seat, which the manufacturer Boeing has called for, one can suffice to buy 30 Super Hornets instead of 38. But it is not enough to make the Super Hornet a better choice for Denmark than Lockheed Martin’s F-35….
Boeing has for several weeks been struggling to get changed the number of estimated flight hours, the aircraft has been attributed to the evaluation from the Defence Ministry’s new fighter office. The reason is that the plane in the evaluation is attributed to 6,000 flying hours, according to Boeing, which applies to operations from aircraft carriers, while the figure is 9,500 flying hours, if the plane is used from conventional runways.
The Defense Ministry also revealed that they had received a detailed response from the US Navy with regard to flight life of the Super Hornet.
The engineer has asked Ministry why new fighter office has evaluated the Super Hornet based on 6,000 rather than 9,500 flying hours.
The reason is, according to the Ministry, that the U.S. Navy, which would be the official seller of the aircraft to Denmark, during the issuance of the final bid in 2014 stated 6,000 hours without referring to 9,500 flight hours.
“That was in connection with the issuance of Request for Binding Information (RBI) in April 2014 where the vendors were asked detailed questions about airframe life. The answer from the US Navy (approx. 60 pages) includes detailed information about the plane’s design, testing of the plane, material selection, design principles, corrosion, service life limited components, etc.
According to the U.S. Navy, the F/A-18F Super Hornet is designed and tested for 6,000 hours, “ according to the written response by Press Secretary Linda Liboriussen.
In short, Denmark is not the new Alabama.