Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has led to a wave of insecurity running through Europe. As a result, various European nations have expressed interest in the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighter, with the landlocked country of Austria becoming the latest to join the bandwagon.
Austria is contemplating replacing its fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in the years following 2030, Janes publication reported.
Following the release of the EUR16 billion (USD15.5 billion) defense budget through 2027 on October 7, Janes was informed that the Austrian Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) armament directorate had been tasked with gathering information to enable a valuation assessment on a potential purchase of the fifth-generation “stealth fighter” in the next ten years.
The revelation comes just days after another European country Czech Republic submitted a letter of request to the United States for the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II procurement. EurAsian Times had reported that the F-35 would replace 14 Saab JAS 39 Gripens that the Czech military currently employs.
According to the report, the assessment will be undertaken as part of plans to find a successor for the Eurofighter Typhoon, one of the world’s most advanced 4+ generation fighter jets. The Typhoons of the Austrian Air Force are slated for upgrades under the latest budget to take them through to the early 2030s.
Europe’s F-35 customers include Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom. Germany, Greece, and Switzerland, non-NATO members, have also chosen US aircraft. With Austria selecting the aircraft, the F-35 will dominate the European fighter jet market, especially as European sixth-generation fighters are still years away from being fielded.
#Austria maybe now looking to join the European F-35 bandwagon, with information for a possible post-2030 transition from the Eurofighter Typhoon now being sought. @JanesINTEL story to come. https://t.co/tlf9vwP8IR
— Gareth Jennings (@GarethJennings3) October 10, 2022
Due to various operational characteristics, the F-35 is a favorite among the US’ European allies and partners. A multirole combat aircraft of the fifth generation, the stealth jet is an ideal choice for taking out ground-based radars, defense systems, and critical military infrastructure.
Significant investments in cutting-edge technology, like the F-35, frequently result in tighter collaboration with the US through pilot and maintenance training. Additionally, using the same equipment enhances military cooperation with the US and would allow the European countries to build effective deterrence against Russia.
Austria’s Eurofighter Woes
Austria has had a rough time with its fleet of Typhoons. Back in 2002, Vienna purchased the Eurofighter Typhoon over the Saab Gripen C/D fighter aircraft, and it was only a few years ago, in 2014, that it finished paying off the €2-billion purchase costs for the 15 single-seat jets.
For a long time, the lack of specific essential capabilities, such as the PIRATE infrared sensor, a helmet-mounted display, the EuroDASS self-defense suite, and the operating costs of the jet, have been questioned by the Austrian defense ministry. In addition, the Austrian jets lack an air-to-air missile with a range beyond visual range and an air-to-ground capability.
Hans Peter Doskozil, former Austrian defense minister, announced his plans to phase out the Typhoons by 2023 for the first time in July 2017. Eighteen new fighters were supposed to replace the nation’s outdated Saab 105 jet trainers, which also provided a meager amount of air policing at the time.
Based on costs until 2049, Doskozil claimed that retiring the Eurofighter would be up to €2 billion less expensive than updating them. The debate on the future of the Typhoon was, however, put off for the time being after Doskozil’s Social Democratic Party lost the majority in the Austrian parliamentary elections in October 2017 to the Austrian People’s Party.
According to a report in the Austrian newspaper Krone in 2020, Austrian People’s Party defense minister Klaudia Tanner had officially confirmed Indonesia’s interest in purchasing 15 Typhoons and intended to enter “concrete sales negotiations” with her counterpart in Jakarta, Prabowo Subianto.
The sale had to be approved by the four Eurofighter partner countries of Germany — Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States — before it could be finalized. According to estimates, the fighters still had around two-thirds of their service life left or another 20 years in 2020.
That said, Indonesia has chosen to go the Rafale way for its fighter jet needs and has bagged approval from the United States for purchasing F-15 fighter jets. That leaves Austria with fewer options but to upgrade its fleet for now while looking for a successor.