The eventful history of the military aircraft Joint Strike Fighter (F35) is like an educational fable. It enables us to contemplate on the one hand the sometimes almost perverse mechanisms of US foreign and defence policy and, on the other, the process of voluntary abandonment of European positions and strengths. In short, it acts as an eminently instructive “digest” of the transatlantic relationship.
It should be recognized that the American idea to "multinationalize" their new military aircraft is, without any irony, brilliant. Of course, they had to find a few docile and servile dupes in order to make it work. But in this regard, Europe is never short of candidates. The five NATO countries jumping on the occasion were not the least bothered by the fact that in exchange of their financial contribution to the development costs of the (still fictitious) super-plane, all they received were promises. Even these latter became more and more scarcely. And the whole at the price of the sabotaging their own (European) opportunities. The Pentagon’s spectacular publicity stunts quickly turned out to be exactly what they were: publicity stunts. The meeting between propaganda and reality was sometimes brutal even for these zealous governments, the incarnations of unconditional Atlanticism. With regard to their influence on the program (less than null), to technology transfers (quasi non-existent, if not in the other way), to industrial repercussions (unsignificant), to the planned deadlines (revised and re-revised), to the aircraft’s unit price (on the rise) or to bureaucratic turf wars in Washington (without a break), European "partners" had to resign themselves to only observing the events. What is more, observing from a distance (their representatives are lodged in a building separate from the program office), under control (of the American director of the international division, who had most remarkably specified that the all these countries’ contributions, except for that of the British, only means “some extras"), and cloistered (Washington took care to separate them from each other, and place them in distinct sub-directorates in accordance with their "category" as contributors). But the crux of the matter lies elsewhere. The "co-operation" à la Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) was conceived with two strategic objectives in mind: destroy European defence industry and formalize the absolute dependence of the plane’s purchaser-users with respect to the US systems. Concerning the first target, JSF is meant to kill three birds with one stone. It allows to drastically reduce potential outlets for its European competitors (Rafale and Eurofighter); to draw away considerable funds from the Europeans’ research and development budgets; and to critically reduce their possibilities of co-operation among themselves. As for the second objective, the absolute dependence of future purchaser-users is ensured by multiple means. According to the American projects, the software codes of the avionics are not communicated (not even to the British, yet contributing to the amount of 2 billion dollars in the development phase); assembly of the aircrafts and training of the pilots would only take place on US soil; electronics is optimized to be used while being integrated in the American systems, within the framework of operations led by Washington; and supply of components and services would only be available through a centralized mechanism, certainly cost-effective, but most importantly kept under US control. A Resolution of the WEU Assembly (the single parliamentary body competent in defence matters at the European level) pointed out the dangers, as far back as in June 2002: the members of Parliament judged that “the choice of the JSF for equipping the air forces of a number of member states will have adverse consequences for the future of the European aeronautics industry and in terms of interoperability of equipment between European states in the context of implementing a European security and defence policy”. They asked “the member states concerned to reconsider their participation in the JSF programmeme, bearing in mind European solutions now available and the fact that the effect on the future of the European aeronautics industry of any choice in favour of JSF might be detrimental to strengthening European military capabilities”. Even if the warning is merely symbolic, it has the merit to be unequivocally clear.
Full text in Hungarian.
armement, joint strike fighter/f-35