Before the Cut: The Global Politics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

Srdjan Vucetic
Content Type
Working Paper
Centre for International Peace and Security Studies
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is a high-calibre international collaboration project that figures in many debates on the emerging structure of international politics. How and why did the U.S. government and the U.S. defence industry enter into a set of international partnerships to develop this weapon system? Conversely, how and why did the partner nations become partners, and what influence, if any, have they had on the program so far? And how have participating governments dealt with the mounting controversies surrounding the new fighter jet? In principle, collaboration projects not only cement alliance ties, but also help offset development costs and increase exports, thus lowering unit costs overall. In reality, the F-35 has so far been a boondoggle. Highly asymmetric by design, the JSF project has proven particularly challenging to partners, especially now that the program's cost overruns, delays, and performance shortfalls have become a regular news item in the mainstream media. A review of ongoing F-35 debates across partner countries suggest that evaluations based on “high politics” considerations implicating the costs and benefits of the U.S. alliance trail well behind those concerning technical issues such as cost overruns, work shares, and transfers of technology. The F-35 is a political hot potato for all participating governments, but in the absence of a fatal cut to the program made in Washington D.C., outright defections are unlikely at this stage.
Security, Defense Policy, Arms Control and Proliferation, International Affairs
Political Geography
United States, Washington