European Tensions Prompt Denmark To Keep F-16s Longer

Royal Danish Air Force F-16
Credit: Tony Osborne/Aviation Week

LONDON­­—Denmark is to retain its F-16s at a higher operational level and for a longer period than planned due to regional tensions prompted by Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Rather than phase out its F-16 fleet in 2024 as the Royal Danish Air Force (RDAF) transitions to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the country plans to retain its F-16 fleet until 2027 in line with recommendations made by Defense Minister Morten Bodskov.

The move means Denmark will operate two front-line combat aircraft types together for the first time since the 1980s, when it flew F-16s and Saab Drakens.

Retaining the F-16s for an additional three years will cost 1.1 billion Danish krone ($150 million), the Defense Ministry said in a June 20 statement. The additional funding is to pay for fuel, spares and the retention of personnel associated with the type.

Keeping the F-16s in service for longer will not affect the introduction of the F-35, officials insist.

“Putin’s aggression in Ukraine has changed Europe,” says Bodskov. “That is why we are increasing the Armed Forces’ ability to contribute to Putin’s deterrence.”

“The security policy situation in Europe is fundamentally different than in 2016, when the Fighter Agreement was concluded . . . therefore, we are extending the operational capacity of the F-16 while the new F-35 aircraft are being phased in,” Bodskov says.

Retaining the F-16s longer is expected to allow the RDAF to continue participating in NATO operations including air-policing in the Baltic Sea.

Under the original transition plan for F-16s to F-35s, the RDAF would have been unable to support international missions between 2022 and 2024 until more F-35s were introduced. A limited capacity to support such missions with F-35s was planned for 2025-26, with full operational status planned for 2027. 

Denmark was the third of the four European Participating Air Forces after Norway and the Netherlands to adopt the F-35 as its F-16 replacement, Belgium also has selected the F-35. 

Copenhagen is buying 27 F-35s; several aircraft already have been delivered and are supporting pilot training at Luke AFB, Arizona. F-35are due to begin arriving in Denmark during 2023.

Tony Osborne

Based in London, Tony covers European defense programs. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2012, Tony was at Shephard Media Group where he was deputy editor for Rotorhub and Defence Helicopter magazines.


1 Comment
Read it the other way. The F35 is still years away from being fully operational, if it ever will be. The Danish Air Force prefers to keep their F16 flying and will probably keep them flying till a better than F35 will be available.