Denmark welcomed its first F-35s at Skrydstrup air base

On 14th September 2023, four F-35 Lightning II jets arrived to Skrydstrup air base in Denmark. The aircraft became the first locally based 5th generation fighters of the Royal Danish Air Force, opening the new page in history of the country´s air force.

The history of the Danish F-35s began already in 2002, when the country joined the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme during its System Development and Demonstration phase. At that time, three Danish aviation companies became part of the JSF supply chain.

Nevertheless, participation in the JSF programme did not automatically mean that Denmark would purchase the F-35 fighters. Although at that time it was clear that the RDAF would soon need a new fighter aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcon aeroplanes. Therefore, internal decision-making and approval procedures on that matter – not devoid of some political wrangling – lasted until 2013.

In 2014, two months before the biennial Danish Air Show, the Danish Ministry of Defence issued the Request for Binding Information (RBI), addressed to four aviation manufacturers – Lockheed Martin (F-35 Lightning II), Saab (JAS-39 Gripen), Eurofighter (EF 2000) and Boeing (F/A-18 Super Hornet). In consequence, all those manufacturers participated in the biggest aviation event in the country, trying to gain recognition of Danish military authorities, politicians and general public (check our report from Danish Air Show 2014 for more information).

Finally, in 2016, the Danish authorities made their decision and approved purchase of twenty-seven F-35A fighters within a contract worth approximately 3 billion USD.

USAF, RDAF and RNLAF F-35s flying in formation over Arizona, as part of joint training programme focused on interoperability and integration of the 5th generation fighter crews (USAF photo by SrA Dominic Tyler)

The first Danish F-35 Lightning II (c/n: AP-01) was rolled off the production line in January of 2021. On 8th March of that year, the aircraft successfully performed its maiden flight. The aircraft was marked with L-001 serial number of the RDAF and was officially handed over to the country´s air force on 7th April 2021.

However, and following provisions of the contract, the first six Danish aircraft remained at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona. Such procedure is a standard with all F-35 deliveries in order to support international interoperability of training operations – although for each country, number of the aircraft that stay in the United States may vary depending on particular contract conditions.

The RDAF had to wait more than two years for the first locally based 5th generation fighters. The seventh to tenth Danish F-35s arrived to their new home base in Skrydstrup, in the middle of September 2023.

Reconstruction of the Skrydstrup air base, in order to meet the requirements for the 5th generation fighters, began in 2017. The works included a completely new campus with area of approximately 35,000 square metres and noise reducing wall with a height of seven metres built around the campus. Initially, the cost of air base reconstruction was estimated not to exceed 650 million DKK. Although some additional works and price increases caused the investment exceeded 1.3 billion DKK (approximately 174 million EUR). The F-35 campus and other facilities were officially opened on 1st September 2023.

On 1st October 2023, the four F-35 Lightning II fighters were officially handed over to the RDAF. The ceremony was attended by Frederick, the Crown Prince of Denmark and Troels Lund Poulsen, the Danish Minister of Defence, as well as 8,000 visitors.

It is expected that the Danish 5th generation fighters will become fully operational in 2027.

The first Danish F-35 Lightning II fighter at Luke Air Force Base (USAF photo by SrA Dominic Tyler)

Cover photo: A Royal Danish Air Force F-35A Lightning II fighter jet assigned to the 308th Fighter Squadron, Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, soars over Bagdad, Arizona, May 5, 2021 (USAF photo by SrA Dominic Tyler).
All photos © U.S. Department of Defence (DoD). DoD information materials were used, in compliance with Public Domain licence. The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement.