The Portuguese Air Force would like to procure F-35A fighter-bombers without too much delay

The Portuguese Air Force wants F-35s to replace aging F-16s but political approval and funding are uncertain.

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

In November, General João Cartaxo Alves, who holds the position of Chief of Staff of the Portuguese Air Force (Força Aérea Portuguesa), presented the “Air Force 5.3” transformation plan. This plan encompassed the acquisition of Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) drones, light attack aircraft, and, most importantly, fifth-generation F-35A fighter bombers.

Despite this, the Military Programming Law (LPM) that was approved in March 2023 did not include any reference to this particular component. Clarification was provided by General Cartaxo Alves, who stated that the “implementation” of this initiative, which ultimately aspires to replace the F-16M Fighting Falcons used by the FAP, would ultimately be determined by political authorities.

Furthermore, according to Breaking Defense, a spokesperson for the Portuguese Minister of Defense at the time, Helena Carreiras, clarified that there was “no acquisition procedure” for new planes to replace the F-16s. The spokesperson referred to General Cartaxo Alves’ statements as a “vision for the future.”

To be more specific, the Portuguese LPM has allotted 5.5 billion euros to finance eight significant acquisitions by the year 2034; however, the F-35 is not included in this allocation. Nevertheless, the revision of the text in 2027 has the potential to change the circumstances, particularly in light of the recent shift in the political group that holds the majority.

The chief of staff of the FAP, on the other hand, appears to be eager for a speedy decision regarding the replacement of the F-16s. In an interview published by Diário de Notícias the previous week, he made a forceful suggestion regarding this matter.

General Cartaxo Alves, who was speaking about the military assistance provided to Kyiv, mentioned that the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, and Belgium have promised Ukraine F-16s, given that they are already upgrading to F-35As.

“These countries transitioned from the F-16 to the F-35. We haven’t done it yet. We had 40 F-16s and sold 12 to Romania. The remaining 28 fulfill our commitments. We cannot abandon them until we transition to the F-35,” he argued.

“Currently, our F-16s are the same age as those owned by the Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium. What will happen? Are we going to follow the same path as these countries?” General Cartaxo Alves was questioned.

“They need to be replaced because even if a decision is made now, the first F-35 plane will only arrive in seven years,” he continued. He stressed that coping with the F-16’s obsolescence will continue to be expensive.

The general explained to Diario de Noticias that Portugal is actively using the F-16 to fulfill its allied obligations. Thus, four fighters are currently deployed in the Baltic states: “We are located right next to the border with Russia.”

The FAP commander indicated that the transfer to the F-35 has already begun, even though there is no plan in place to replace the F-16s that are now in use by the Portuguese. “We organized a workshop here with Lockheed and the US Air Force to understand this transition to the fifth generation,” he said, noting that the transition will span approximately two decades with an estimated expenditure of 5.5 billion euros.


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