Denmark has officially taken delivery of its first four Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighter jets during a ceremony held at Skrydstrup Air Base in southern Jutland, from where they will operate.
“Arrival of the first F-35 combat aircraft in Denmark is a historic event for the Danish Defence and the Royal Danish Air Force,” said Danish Minister of Defense, Troels Lund Poulsen, during the ceremony.
Denmark’s involvement in the F-35 program dates back to 2002 when it joined as a partner during the System Development and Demonstration phase. The Royal Danish Air Force also contributed a Danish F-16 to the Joint Strike Fighter 461st Flight Test Squadron in California, where it served as a chase plane for the F-35 Development, Test & Evaluation program.
Denmark has become the tenth nation and the fifth European member of NATO to deploy the F-35 from its own territory. Lockheed Martin anticipates that, by the mid-2030s, over 600 F-35 fighter jets will be deployed across various NATO member bases in Europe – namely Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, the United States, and the United Kingdom – as well as Switzerland.
In total, 27 F-35As were ordered for the Flyvevåbnet, the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF). Denmark has received 10 F-35 aircraft to date, with four now stationed at Skrydstrup Air Base and six at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where Danish pilots and maintainers are undergoing training.
The first aircraft, with the tail number L-001, was unveiled in March 2021, bearing red and white cockades and the famous Dannebrog flag on the tail. In contrast to the common choice of a gray low-visibility livery by most operators, Denmark chose vivid colors for its markings.
The Danish fighter fleet under strain?
The F-35 will gradually replace the aging F-16A/B Block 20 MLU (Mid-Life Update) fleet of the Flyvevåbnet. On June 26, 2023, Poulsen announced that the 33 F-16s would be withdrawn from service as early as 2024 or 2025, contrary to the previous plan of keeping them operational until 2027 with an investment of €150 million. 19 Danish F-16 fighters will be transferred to Ukraine, with six to be delivered around January 2024.
On September 7, 2023, the Danish Ministry of Defense stated that the next Danish F-35 fighter jets, initially expected to be delivered in the first half of 2024, would not be received before the second half of the year, as Lockheed Martin has faced challenges with the software onboard the latest versions of the F-35 fighter jet.
Poulted said that the delay in the F-35 fighter deliveries, the transfer of the F-16s to Kyiv, and the training of Ukrainian pilots might require the RDAF to temporarily withdraw from NATO activities such as the Baltic Air Policing mission.