Romania aims to sign a Letter of Acceptance (LoA) with the US government in 2024 to procure F-35 stealth aircraft, with the planned delivery of the first jet to the Romanian Air Force expected in 2030.
In early August, reports initially emerged that the nation’s parliament had been requested to approve a $6.5 billion program for acquiring 32 Lockheed Martin-manufactured fighter jets alongside logistics equipment, training, and ammunition.
On August 18, the Romanian Ministry of National Defense (MND) spokesperson was quoted saying that once legal requirements obtain parliamentary approval, the procedures specific to government-to-government (G-to-G) acquisitions will be initiated.
The spokesperson also elaborated that the signing of the Letter of Acceptance (LoA) for the acquisition contract is projected to take place in 2024, with the delivery of the first aircraft to the Romanian Air Force scheduled to commence in 2030.
The nation aims to equip the Romanian Air Force with cutting-edge capabilities, elevating Romania’s strategic significance within the security structure of NATO’s eastern flank and the Black Sea region.
On April 11, under the leadership of President Klaus Iohannis, the country’s Supreme Council on National Defense granted authorization to acquire F-35 aircraft to bolster the country’s air force.
This potential agreement is set to be executed through the foreign military sales framework, entailing the requirement of approval from the United States Department of State.
Meanwhile, the initial acquisition of two squadrons encompassing a total of 32 aircraft also holds the potential to pave the way for a subsequent procurement of a third squadron consisting of 16 fighter jets.
If materialized, this planned acquisition could establish Romania as the third Eastern European ally, succeeding Poland and the Czech Republic, in integrating Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation aircraft within its fleet.
F-35s Encircling Russia & China
The prospect of Romania acquiring F-35s is another example of the ongoing trend where the United States and its allied nations are actively procuring cutting-edge technology to counter the challenges posed by Russia and China.
Developed by Lockheed Martin, the F-35 aircraft has witnessed a remarkable proliferation across European nations and, to a certain extent, in the Indo-Pacific region.
In the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the demand for F-35 has grown substantially. This surge in interest has translated into robust sales, as evidenced by Germany signing an agreement to procure 35 F-35As, the Czech Republic opting for 24 units, Greece expressing a desire for 20 F-35s, and Romania now advancing its plans to acquire the 32 stealth aircraft.
In addition to these nations, the list of European F-35 customers includes Belgium, Denmark, Switzerland, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and the United Kingdom.
In the long run, the company envisions that Europe will host over 550 F-35s by 2030, including US Air Force squadrons stationed at Royal Air Force Lakenheath in England.
This surge in accomplishments can be attributed to the exceptional degree of interoperability that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter offers to allies and partners, particularly within the framework of NATO.
Additionally, the aircraft’s assured upgrade roadmap further contributes to this wave of success. The aircraft also plays a pivotal role in NATO operations, including Baltic Air Policing, aiming to counter Moscow.
The increasing presence of these aircraft in Europe is likely to raise concerns for Moscow, as it finds itself gradually encircled by stealth aircraft that could pose a substantial military threat.
Meanwhile, the F-35 fifth-generation fighter jets have also been significantly positioned in proximity to China, a strong ally of Russia, showcasing considerable efforts by the United States and its allies to offset the escalating influence of the PLA.
An evaluation of American aircraft by Chinese military researchers revealed that the F-35 poses a higher level of risk for Beijing in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait compared to the older F-22.
While F-22 is still recognized as a deadly stealth fighter, Chinese researchers labeled the F-35A as a more versatile and capable aircraft in potential conflicts in China’s home waters.
The study also recognized that the F-35A could serve dual roles, acting as a sensor for intelligence gathering and as a primary escort for forward attack missions.
The apprehensions regarding the US-manufactured F-35 in Beijing are mainly prompted by the growing cooperation between American allies in the region, notably South Korea, Japan, and Australia, who maintain their own fleets of F-35 fighter jets.
Japan, for instance, is in the process of acquiring a substantial fleet of 147 F-35s, encompassing 105 units of the air force variant F-35A and the remaining Short Takeoff and Vertical Landing (STOVL) F-35B.
Similarly, South Korea, another crucial US ally in the region, currently operates 40 F-35A stealth fighter jets and is actively pursuing additional acquisitions. In a strategic move last year, South Korea announced its intention to procure additional 20 F-35A fighter jets from the United States.
Moreover, the United States upholds a rotational presence of its F-35 fighter jets in the region, particularly emphasizing Japan and South Korea.
In addition to China, North Korea’s recent string of missile tests has compelled Tokyo and Seoul to set aside their historical differences and forge a robust trilateral alliance with the United States.
This collaborative effort aims to ensure a rapid and well-coordinated response to any potential provocative actions initiated by North Korea.
In February of this year, Singapore announced to acquire an additional eight F-35B Lightning II fighter jets, in addition to the four for which a deal had been established in 2019.
Meanwhile, the United States is strengthening its collaboration with Australian F-35s. It has recently carried out joint Agile Combat Employment (ACE) training to ensure the smooth deployment of these stealth fighters from remote air bases.
In a broader context, the extensive deployment of these fighter jets has heightened the threat perceived by both Russia and China.