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Denmark nears final decision on controversial fighter jets

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Denmark nears final decision on controversial fighter jets
An F-35 under testing by the Norwegian Ministry of Defence. Photo: Forsvarsdepartementet/Kaszynzki, Lockheed Martin/Flickr
14:09 CEST+02:00
Denmark appears ready to spend a potential 100 million kroner ($15 million) on up to 30 F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft from the US.
The Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets look likely to be chosen ahead of Boeing's Super Hornet, the other contender for the Danish contract, despite Boeing's aggressive advertising campaign in Denmark. 
 
Radio24syv reported on Thursday that the F-35 came top in a series of strategic, military, economic and industrial evaluations carried out by the Ministry of Defence, 
 
Regardless of the final choice, the move to purchase the new aircraft has proven controversial, with commentators pointing out the expense of updating the Air Force relative to social welfare cuts.

Although the jets cost 550 million kroner ($85 million) each, the final cost is as yet unknown. According to the Radio24syv report, the total cost for 28 fighter aircraft over a 30-year lifespan including equipment and maintenance could run as high as 100 billion kroner ($15 billion).

Parliament is set to negotiate the exact number of jets - with preferences varying from 18 to “at least 30” amongst the various parties - as well as the nature of the contract for their order in the near future.

The purchase of the new aircraft has been on the agenda of the Ministry of Defence for almost a decade. According to Berlingske, 48 new jets were initially on the government's shopping list before the total was revised downwards to 30 in 2009. The same year, the decision to acquire new jets was put on hold when the existing Danish F-16s, in service since 1980, were revealed to have only flown around half of their lifespan.

The choice of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over Boeing's Super Hornet has in itself raised a few eyebrows amongst Danish commentators, not least since US production of the F-35 has been beset by problems to such an extent that Senator John McCain recently called it “a scandal and a tragedy with respect to cost, schedule and performance.”

Spiralling costs and schedule delays for the production of 2,457 planes in the United States has left the development of the aircraft costing over $400 billion, almost twice the initial estimate, according to a CNN report.

Meanwhile, rival manufacturer Boeing conducted an aggressive publicity campaign in Denmark which led to ridicule of its advertisements while also bringing debate over the use of enormous sums of public money back to the forefront.

Boeing's campaign, which included posters depicting the Super Hornet and the slogan ‘A secure choice for Denmark' and potential job creation, were followed up by parody posters encouraging the Danish state to build the Star Wars Death Star.

 

With the Boeing ads now apparently having been in vain, debate has turned to scrutiny of the F-35 jets - as well as the issue of spending large sums on the aircraft.

Estimates for growth in the economy were revised downwards this week and the long-term 2025 budget to be presented later this year is likely to find it difficult to maintain current levels of social welfare and living standards, according to an analysis in Berlingske's Politiko. With costs from increasing numbers within the elderly and refugee population segments also on the rise, most Danes would prefer to see wide-ranging investment in education and healthcare over the purchase of new fighter jets, a mindset reflected in the satirical responses to the Boeing ads.

But with the wait for investment in the Danish Air Force now having gone on for several years, a final decision on the jets appears to be close.

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen intends to have placed a final order for the planes by the time he attends Nato's conference in Warsaw this July.

Update: An earlier version of this article stated that the total price could reach 100 billion kroner ($15 billion) per aircraft. That figure is actually the potential 30-year cost of 28 jets. 

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