Who will win the great Danish dogfight?

Has Lockheed Martin’s grip loosened on the next-generation fighter opportunity in Denmark, as Copenhagen’s new approach to three of its rival bidders might suggest?

Beyond its long-held interest in Lockheed’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Danish defence ministry has now asked for information on the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, the Eurofighter consortium’s Typhoon and Saab’s developmental Gripen E, as it mulls its best avenue for replacing a fleet of 47 Lockheed F-16AM/BMs (image below courtesy of the Royal International Air Tattoo).

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As a Level 3 partner in the JSF programme, Denmark is notionally planning to acquire up to 48 of the stealthy, fifth-generation type. This number is probably a bit on the high side though, when you consider the nation’s plans to reduce defence spending post-Afghanistan and the balance of its current fleet, which includes 36 single-seat fighters and 11 trainers.

Lockheed has largely had Denmark to itself for the last five years, since Eurofighter pulled out of a competitive process while complaining: “they have already taken a decision: to be part of the JSF programme”.

Saab has kept an interested eye across the ├śresund while its new-generation Gripen E has advanced, but acquiring a Swedish combat type would be a major departure for its near-neighbour, regardless of the type’s future capability and claimed low operating costs. Boeing’s Super Hornet is probably also a long-shot, although it’s ready today with the active electronically scanned array radar that the European types are only due to field within the coming years. The company has previously sent aircraft to Denmark in support of its promotional activities, so its inclusion on the list isn’t a surprise.

The timescale for a procurement means a decision is due around 2015, by which time we’ll know a lot more about the F-35′s true capabilities and cost, and also what new tricks the Gripen E, Super Hornet and Typhoon are likely to be able to offer. It would probably take a brave punter to look beyond Denmark eventually keeping faith with the F-35, though.


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