In the Balkans, 49 F-16A/B MLUs will be replaced by 48 F-35s

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In the midst of enduring challenges and changes, America’s iconic combat aircraft, the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II, maintains a steady course. The aircraft, proficient in its dynamic journey, experienced significant turning points that impacted its course.

One notable was Turkey’s expulsion from the program which initially seemed detrimental to the F-35’s production. However, subsequent developments reshaped the course of influence, specifically the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, which brought the F-16 back into the limelight of global arms deals. 

Romania recently crystallized its intentions to replace its entire fleet of F-16A/B MLUs [49 in total] with the procurement of a third F-35 squadron, amounting to 48 units of Lockheed’s high-tech jet. 

Photo credit: Pixabay

As per the Romanian Ministry of Defense, the country’s parliament has been requested to approve the acquisition of three squadrons of fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II fighters. This denotes a considerable enlargement of their public procurement plans. 

Prior to this, Romania had only revealed plans to purchase two squadrons of F-35A, equivalent to 32 aircraft. Now, ambitions have grown to three squadrons or 48 aircraft heralding a comprehensive fleet revamp. 

Back in April, reports from indicated the Romanian government’s intention to join the ranks of F-35 owners. Despite uncertainty around precise numbers at that point, the vision in Bucharest was already taking root. initially recognized Romania as a viable F-35 client back in July 2022. According to a 2019 Pentagon report, Romania, along with Spain, was marked as potential new users of the F-35. 

Given these indicators, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Romania is now poised to receive the F-35. While the Ukraine conflict appears to have sped up the procurement process, Spain, despite being on the Pentagon’s radar, has not shown explicit interest in the F-35. Yet, for Romania, the Pentagon’s forecast has now materialized. 

Romania’s acquisition of the F-35A is scheduled to occur in two increments. The first phase involves buying the initially planned 32 aircraft, equipment, and armaments, with the procurement process slated to commence this year. 

Photo credit: Wikimedia

The contract, which falls under the US intergovernmental foreign sales program FMS, is estimated to be worth around $6.5 billion. A second phase will see Romania planning for an additional 16 F-35A aircraft, although a timeline for this purchase hasn’t been disclosed. 

This procurement of the fifth-generation stealth fighter represents Romania’s most substantial military procurement to date and signifies a gigantic leap toward the modernization of Romania’s aviation capabilities. 

“To reach this level of capability takes time. By starting now, we aim to complete the transition to a new type of aircraft by 2030 just as our F-16s reach the end of their lifespan,” quoted Chief of the Romanian Defense General Staff, Cili Daniel Petrescu. 

The Romanian Air Force currently has a fleet of 17 F-16 warplanes from Portugal, along with another batch purchased from Norway for €388 million paving the way to the F-35. The first Norwegian F-16s are scheduled for delivery by year-end. 

Photo by Bartek Bera

The acquisition of 32 aircraft from Norway coupled with 17 from Portugal paves the way for Romania’s air force modernization, replacing the old Soviet-era MiG-21 Lancers in May. 

However, the 32 F-16s from Norway come with a ten-year lifespan, whereas the 17 F-16s from Portugal provide a significantly larger usage. The implementation of the F-35 program will follow shortly after 2030. 

The creation of the F-35 fighter jet is owed to Lockheed Martin. As the primary contractor of the F-35, it collaborates with Northrop Grumman and BAE Systems as key partners.


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