Romania announces it’ll buy F-35s, in the shadow of Russian ‘aggression’

The move comes as the country looks to up defense spending and modernize its military forces in the wake of Russia’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.

The active duty 388th and Reserve 419th Fighter Wings conducted an F-35 Lightning II Combat Power Exercise at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, Jan. 6, 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by R. Nial Bradshaw)

WASHINGTON — Romania says it will purchase F-35 Joint Strike Fighters in a bid to boost the country’s air security capabilities and deter “aggression,” according to a statement posted to the website of president Klaus Iohannis. 

Romanian officials have expressed growing interest in procuring the fighter in recent months as Russia’s war against Ukraine drags on. The decision, which did not specify how many jets Bucharest wants, was made after Iohannis met with the nation’s supreme defense council, that statement said.

“Having robust, credible, interoperable, flexible and efficient air defense operational capabilities … as part of our commitments as a NATO and EU state is key to Romania meeting its defense policy objectives,” the statement said, according to a Reuters translation. “The air force’s modernization process will continue through the acquisition of last generation F-35 jets.”

The decision to buy the jet would position Romania, a NATO ally that shares a border with Ukraine, to join the 17-member global Joint Strike Fighter enterprise following the formalization of F-35 purchases by Canada in January. Though Romania missed the NATO 2 percent defense spending target in 2022, the country expects to spend 2.5 percent of GDP on defense in 2023, Bloomberg reported

Last year, Romanian officials agreed to purchase 32 F-16 fighters from Norway. 

Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the F-35, referred questions about Romania’s potential buy to the US government, but told Breaking Defense in a statement, “Lockheed Martin values our strong partnership and history with the Romanian Air Force and looks forward to continuing that partnership into the future.”

News of the country’s decision to buy the F-35 highlights just how dramatically Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shifted the European security landscape. Last week, NATO officially welcomed Finland as its 31st member, undoing decades of nonalignment. Sweden is waiting in the wings to join the alliance as well, though objections from Turkey and Hungary have stalled that move.

Interest in the F-35 has risen globally among US allies and partners as more countries seek to modernize their fighter fleets and achieve interoperability with their weapon systems, which officials call “integrated by design.” Some 600 F-35s will be operating in Europe by the mid-2030s, Gen. James Hecker, the commander of US Air Forces in Europe and Africa, said during an event hosted by the Mitchell Institute on March 22.

“We’ve had four countries come into sales since the invasion of Ukraine,” Hecker said. “We are now up to having over 600 F-35s by the 2034 timeframe, and out of those 600, there’s only going to be about 50 that are US.

“What Putin did when he invaded Ukraine was the exact opposite effect that he wanted to have [done]. What actually happened is it united NATO and as a matter of fact is probably going to grow NATO by a couple more nations,” he said.

Original Article: