Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen made a significant announcement regarding the retirement of the F-16 fighter jets from the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF), known as the Flyvevåbnet.
Poulsen stated that the 33 F-16s would be withdrawn from service as early as 2024 or 2025, contrary to the previous plan of keeping them operational until 2027 with an investment of €150 million.
In June 2022, the ministry announced it would maintain the F-16 fleet operational for domestic air defense missions and allow the RDAF to participate in NATO missions, such as the Baltic Air Policing mission.
Insufficient numbers of the newer Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters and their anticipated technical unavailability had contributed to this decision, as they were unable to meet the requirements for pilot training, daily missions, and potential deployments abroad.
New timeline for the Danish F-35
However, Poulsen has now reconsidered this decision, citing the F-35As’ anticipated operational readiness sooner than expected.
During an interview with the public broadcasting channel DR, he gave details on the updated timeline for the Danish F-35As, which prompted the reassessment of the retirement plan for the F-16s.
Currently, the RDAF has received seven out of the 27 F-35As that were ordered. These aircraft are currently stationed in the advanced training facilities of the Luke Air Force Base in Arizona for pilot training purposes. In autumn 2023, one of the F-35As, specifically the seventh delivery, will arrive at Skrydstrup Air Base in southern Jutland.
Opening F-16 deliveries to Ukraine
The Danish government’s decision to retire the F-16s is also connected to its intention to provide support to Ukraine. While no official confirmation has been made, Copenhagen is reportedly finalizing the details to transfer a certain number of F-16s to Ukraine. Additionally, discussions are underway regarding the possibility of training Ukrainian pilots at Skrydstrup Air Base.
Poulsen hinted that this endeavor might require Flyvevåbnet to temporarily withdraw from NATO activities.
“Denmark can’t do everything, and now, together with the Netherlands, we have taken the initiative to lead this training effort,” the minister said. “We are motivated to provide this support as it can serve as a valuable contribution, enabling the Ukrainians to receive donated F-16 fighter jets at a time when they will be fully capable of utilizing them effectively.”
An international coalition was formed to train Ukrainian pilots to fly the F-16. Dutch Defense Minister Kajsa Ollongren told Reuters that training could begin as early as the end of summer 2023.