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The plans for the upgrade of the US Air Force and the Air Force of the US leading allies in the NATO are primarily tied to the mass production of the F-35 fighter plane.
However, such plans are threatened by the constant escalation of the cost of the new aircraft. And the second tier NATO countries apparently will be forced to keep using their old equipment of American or Soviet origin.
Choose two of the three. This is a standard method of choosing two qualities out of three is the key problem of the new candidate for the title of the main fighter plane of the NATO Air Force. F-35 was conceived precisely like that- as a modern multitask fighter at affordable price. However, very soon it became clear that a modern multirole fighter couldn’t be cheap, while those multirole fighters that can be called inexpensive for the most part are retirement age from physical standpoint, or are morally outdated.
The source of problems with the F-35 was the attempt to turn it into a «work horse» for everybody, combining contradictory requirements from various types of Air Force in one aircraft. Naturally, the variations of F-35 seriously differ from each other, but the «common platform» led to serious difficulties for the adjustment of the aircraft for specific requirements of this or that arm: the price tag of the fighter was constantly growing.
As a result, today the project is in a precarious state – the growth of the price for the fighter planes leads to the reduction in planned aircraft purchases, while the cut in orders can in its turn lead to a hike in its cost in the same way it happened with F-35's elder brother the F-22 fighter plane.
The situation with the Netherlands' Air Force is quite demonstrative, it is quite typical for many «junior» NATO partners of the USA. The original F-35 procurement plan for the Dutch Air Force was 85 aircraft. Then with the price tag going up, the plan went down to 60 aircraft, and then down to 50. The general poor economic situation in the EU also made its contribution, and today the Netherlands plans to purchase only 42 planes.
The Italian Air Force reduced its F-35 procurement plans from 131 to 90 aircraft as a part of the general defense expenditure reduction in the face of the economic crisis. The program of supplying F-35s to Canada and Australia is suspended in the air. It is still unclear what quantity of the new planes will be purchased by the Great Britain, Turkey and Japan, which is not a NATO member…
On that background a lot more attractive is the purchase the upgraded aircraft of the «4+ generation» for the Air Force of the developed countries and their «younger versions» for the second tier countries.
The second case is very well demonstrated by what is happening in the USA and Europe. The aircraft retired from the Air Force of the leading NATO members are sent to the international arms market and after some upgrade are acquired by the Air Force of the developing countries and the third world countries.
It is worth mentioning separately the Soviet made aircraft that remain adopted in many countries. Poland’s situation is very demonstrative. Here the Soviet MiG-29 was to be decommissioned before 2010. But today after an honest evaluation of the prospective of the Air Force upgrade these aircraft are planned to remain in use until 2030 as well as the F-16. By that time the age of both platforms will exceed 50 years, while the physical age will surpass 40 years for the Soviet made MiG-29 and 30 years for the F-16 built in 1990s.In the third world countries all such processes are even more pronounced. The number of countries that can afford to buy a fifth generation aircraft with the exception of the oil monarchies and such regional giants as India is almost zero. As a result, most potential buyers of fighter planes will be forced to the second-hand market, or will turn to the sellers that are able to offer new aircraft that are also inexpensive, even if they do not have low-observability and a wide range of guided missiles. Today China is unsuccessfully trying to be such a seller with its clone of MiG-21 and the FC-1 plane made on its basis. Perhaps the Russian airplane manufacturers need to think about countering the Chinese alternative so it does not associate all of its hopes exclusively with the Sukhoi fighters that with each modification move towards the sector of aircraft with high technologies that are very expensive and can be afforded by a limited number of buyers.