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'Massive Carnage'? Maybe Not, F-35 Fans

Throughout its development, the beleaguered F-35 Joint Strike Fighter has interested a number of global buyers. But the plane’s many setbacks, paired with international politics, could keep the aircraft from dominating the market.

For a brief period, it looked as though Denmark would opt out of purchasing F-35s. Many Danish lawmakers expressed unease about the fighter’s poor performance tests and high price tag, pointing to the Boeing Super Hornet and the Eurofighter Typhoon as potential alternatives.

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But the Danish government approved the purchase of 27 F-35s, joining Japan, Australia, Norway, South Korea, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, Israel, the UK, and the US.

"The Danes were keen to stay in that grouping with the Netherlands and Norway already opting to purchase the F-35 and possibly being joined at some time by Belgium," Doug Barrie, an analyst with the International Institute of Strategic Studies, told Defense News.

Still, the list of buyers is smaller than it once was, meaning the aircraft may not be as big a seller on the international market as it was expected to be.

"[The F-35 was] seen as absolutely dominating all markets where they play, and that’s happening, just a lot slower than they expected. I’m just no longer sure of this massive carnage and total F-35 dominance that I was a decade ago," Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia told Defense News.

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"There is the expectation that there is a blood-letting coming in the next few years, [and] some but not all planes will be dead. The irony is, they will probably be American planes," he added, referring the Super Hornet, the F-15, and the F-16.

Part of the reason is political. Many Middle Eastern countries have been forbidden from purchasing the fighter. Western adversaries have no interest in the aircraft, given that such an arrangement could pose problems if conflict were to break out.

But the overwhelming reason behind the F-35’s lagging sales is its cost paired with its many technical flaws. With a price tag of nearly $100 million per plane, not including exorbitant maintenance costs, countries like Brazil are looking elsewhere.

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Prices increased across the board after Canada, one of the main participants in the F-35 program, backed out, citing the plane’s poor performance reviews.

"The F-35 does not work and is far from working," said Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, during a parliamentary debate last month.

According to US Air Force Lieutenant General Christopher Bogdan, Canada’s withdrawal will likely increase the aircraft’s production costs by roughly $1 million per plane.

According to analyst Aboulafia, the fighter simply hasn’t proven to be a “stake through the heart” of the competition.

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