WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force's F-35 will make an appearance at the Paris Air Show this summer despite weeks of statements to the contrary from Defense Department officials, the service announced May 6.
The decision to showcase the F-35 at the Paris Air Show appears to be a last minute one, perhaps inspired by the "A" model's first-ever training deployment to Europe this April.
A few weeks ago, officials from the F-35 Joint Program Office stated that there were no plans to show the F-35 at Le Bourget Airport this year. Preparations to bring the joint strike fighter to Farnborough International Airshow in 2016 — the aircraft's first appearance at a major European air show — began about half a year in advance.
The Air Force said participation in the air show would give the service yet another opportunity to demonstrate its combat air power capability.
"The F-35A strengthens partnerships and improves regional stability," Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said in a statement. "We welcome the opportunity to further demonstrate the revolutionary capabilities of this aircraft."
Eight operational F-35As from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, are currently located in Europe for training and exercises with NATO partners. So far, the jets have conducted exercises with U.S. and U.K. aircraft at RAF Lakenhealth in England, as well as making out and back stops to Estonia and Bulgaria. It was not immediately clear whether those F-35s will simply stay in Europe for the air show or whether they will return back to the United States first.
The Air Force also hasn’t disclosed how many F-35s will show up at the event and whether the "A" models will conduct a flying demonstration. However, the decision to show the aircraft is a publicity coup for manufacturer Lockheed Martin. Although France has no plans to buy the joint strike fighter, the show provides another venue to drive interest in the aircraft and showcase its capability to other potential foreign customers.
It’s also a win for SIAE, the French aerospace organization that puts together the Paris Air Show, which has been campaigning hard to get the United States to bring the joint strike fighter. The organization sent its first invitation to the U.S. government in September 2016, urging it to conduct an F-35 flight demo, and it has raised the issue multiple times in meetings with U.S. officials, according to Christophe Robin, the communications director for GIFAS, the parent organization of SIAE.
The F-35's exhibition will mark the first time a U.S. stealth aircraft has been showed at the event since the B-2 touched down in Paris for an apperance in 1995.
The Aerospace Industries Association celebrated the Air Force’s decision to send the F-35 to the event.
"International air shows provide the U.S. aerospace and defense industry with an important opportunity to showcase American manufacturing preeminence, bolstered by critical international partnerships, to create the unmatched technology of systems like the F-35," an Aerospace Industries Association statement read. "They are also critical events for high-level representatives from the U.S. government to interact with their peers around the world and maximize common security, foreign policy and economic interests."
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.