The F-35 stealth fighter’s European footprint is expanding rapidly as new planes continue to arrive, security patrol missions increase, and new F-35 partners join the growing list of countries acquiring the fifth-generation stealth jet.
Poland’s future fleet of F-35s will be stationed at Lask Air Base in central Poland, a Lockheed statement said, a development expected to strengthen efforts to deter Russia by expanding the mission proximity envelope across strategically vital areas of Eastern Europe within striking range of Russia. Theater Security Package patrols including F-35s, some of which have taken place in sensitive locations around the globe such as the Pacific, could uptick in the European theater in the region of the Baltics, Baltic Sea and other areas along the Russian border.
Poland solidified its purchase of thirty-two F-35As in January of last year, becoming the 10th North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member to operate the jets. Dispersed geographical locations in terms of basing and operational reach, coupled with the growing numbers of F-35s themselves, introduce new interoperability and deterrence dynamics into the European continent. For many years, NATO countries have often struggled to successfully interoperate with one another due to a lack of compatibility with technical standards, protocols or communications technologies otherwise able to link Air Force jets from different countries together. The F-35 however, operates with a well-known Multifunction Advanced Datalink (MADL) enabling fast, secure, two-way information sharing among F-35, in effect making it possible for F-35s from one NATO country to seamlessly operate with another.
This possibility takes on new significance with the arrival of Polish F-35s for a number of reasons. Norwegian F-35s, for example, are slated to start air-policing missions over Iceland in coming weeks, a move likely to expand NATO’s Northern security reach closer to the highly contested Arctic. Bordering the Baltic Sea, Poland is close to Norway and could easily conduct joint patrols along the geographically crucial region. MADL connectivity between F-35s, along with promising efforts to securely and more effectively connect F-22s to F-35s and network fourth-generation to fifth-generation fighters, can massively expand a protective security “web” across Europe in a way that has never been possible. MADL functionality is detailed in a 2018 Lockheed Martin essay titled “F-35 Mission Systems Design, Development, and Verification.”
“Designed for 5th Generation aircraft, MADL provides fusion-quality data on all air and surface tracks to other members of the flight group. These data include the track state, track covariance, identification features, and passive RF data,” the essay writes.
The F-35 MADL network even extends into Southern Europe as the Italian Navy is now certifying its F-35Bs as “ready for operations,” once Italy’s ITS Cavour completes its F-35B exercises at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.