By Robbin Laird
Recently, I published my book My Fifth Generation Journey: 2004-2018 in which I highlighted how a program not supported by three presidents nor actively by any Secretary of Defense became the dominant air combat system being flown in the era of “great power competition.”
I intend to publish a second volume next year focused particularly on the partners and their key role in the program.
But a key part of the story is Denmark and for me the very unusual conference held in Copenhagen in 2015 between the Williams Foundation and the Centre of Military Studies of the University of Copenhagen.
One of the key presenters at the Conference was Col. Anders Rex, Chief of the Expeditionary Air Staff of the Danish Air Force, who coined the phrase “coalitionability” to express his focus on the core requirement of allied air forces and defense forces shaping ways to work more effectively with one another in dealing with twenty-first century challenges.
Rex went on to become Major General Rex and head of the Air Force where he organized visits for me in Denmark to their bases and to see first-hand their preparation for the arrival of their F-35s and their preparation for fifth-generation enabled combat operations.
He went on to work at senior positions in MoD and is now based in Washington as the Defence Attache.
Upon my return from the DSEI conference in London which was being held while the first Danish F-35s arrived in Denmark, I sat down with Major General Rex to discuss the way ahead, notably in terms of the drive for further integration of the Nordics in terms of defense capabilities and effort.
Major General Rex noted that of course the Air Force would be focused on the standup of their F-35 force, training, equipping and operating the force.
But with the challenges the West faces it was crucial to integrate the capabiltiies which we have more effectively, and the F-35 could be an important stimulant to that process or as I have called it a forcing function aircraft.
But this rests upon much more effective integration of the data generated by the force. “We need to be able to much more effectively share data among our F-35s and with other elements of the force as well.”
Significant progress in data sharing is a key theme when we last talked.
In that 2021 interview held in Copenhagen, he underscored: “For me, joint all domain C2 is clearly the future. But at the same time we have to work on enhanced capabilities with the current force. We need focus on both in parallel. Denmark does not have the muscle to shape the future of all domain command and control, but we also need to drive the change – we need now to get the job done.
“What I have been focused on over the past couple of years, is to make our force better now. Today. We actually already have the capability to shape more effective networks of ISR and C2 without significant investments. For example, we are leveraging the joint range extension application protocol (JREAP) that requires modest investments, and it is a way for us, our allies and coalition partners to build a modest combat cloud linking our data.”
So the coming of the F-35s to Denmark is an important step forward but needs to be part of an allied effort for more effective force integration among the allies, notably those allies flying or going to fly the same aircraft in the region.
Major General Rex underscored: “We put so many limitations on ourselves with regard to data sharing. The first one is policy. The technology is driving greater amounts of data and possibilities of sharing.
“But we need for policy to catch up with technology. There is no clearer case of this than building a global fleet of F-35s and the significant possibility of shared data and integrated operations. We just need to get on with it.”
He argued that “if you put F-35 pilots together with destroyer or submarine captains they can figure out how to work together and share information.
“We need to enable their innovation with the emergence of data rich platforms. I think the point is there is a critical need to make the most out of what our force could do better now and not just pursuing future options and dreams.”
Featured Photo: One of the first four F-35 Lightning II take off from the Lockheed Martin Fort Worth facility enroute to Fighter Wing Skrydstrup, Skrydstrup Air Base,Vojens, Denmark. Credit: Lockheed Martin