The Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler buy to partially satisfy the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) Tornado replacement requirement has been approved by the German government, Der Spiegel has reported.
The service in fact plans to replace 90 Panavia Tornado Interdiction and Strike (IDS)/Electronic Combat Reconnaissance (ECR) aircraft with 85 new platforms from 2025 and for this reason German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer has told the US government that Berlin has given clearance for the Luftwaffe to acquire 45 Super Hornet and Growler aircraft.
The 30 F/A-18E/F multirole and 15 EA-18G electronic attack (EA) jets would enable the Luftwaffe to fulfill its airborne nuclear strike and EA requirements within the required timeframe, Kramp-Karrenbauer said in mid-April. According to Jane’s, the remaining 40 aircraft would comprise additional Eurofighters to add to the 143 already in service (of these, 38 early Tranche 1 aircraft are set to be replaced by the same number of Tranche 3 aircraft under Project Quadriga).
While Der Spiegel has reported Kramp-Karrenbauer’s comments to her US counterpart, Secretary Mark Esper, no official announcement has been made and no contracts signed. An announcement was expected at the ILA Berlin Airshow in May, and despite that event recently being cancelled due to the coronavirus an announcement is still expected in approximately the same timeframe (although it is unclear as to whether this will be a down-select or a type selection).
As we have previously explained, Germany plans to use the Boeing Super Hornet to fill a NATO requirement to field fighter aircraft capable of dropping the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, a role currently played within the Luftwaffe by the Tornado IDS.
The split procurement doesn’t offer an easy answer for Germany’s requirement to field a nuclear-capable jet: in fact only the legacy F/A-18 Hornet — not the Super Hornet — was ever certified to carry the B61. For this reason, the Super Hornet will have to go through the certification process. However, Boeing said to have the US government’s support for future integration.
Justin Bronk, a research fellow with the Royal United Services Institute, a U.K. based thinktank that covers defense issues, pointed out that while the Eurofighter offers greater power, lift and agility compared to the Super Hornet, it could be more politically difficult and time-consuming to certify the Typhoon as the Eurofighter consortium would have to hand over some technical details over the to the US government and US defense contractors to integrate it with the B61.
“Neither Eurofighter nor Super Hornet are a credible delivery system for the B61 against Russian targets due to the vulnerability of both platforms to modern Russian air defenses,” he wrote.
Bronk concluded by saying that buying the F-35 represented the best chance to fielding a nuclear capable jet on a fast timeline: in fact, even if the F-35 is not yet capable of carrying the B61, integrating the Lightning II with the bomb is planned as part of the jet’s ongoing Block 4 modernization phase.
But, as already reported, in January 2019, defense officials eliminated the F-35 from the competition to replace the Tornado because picking an American plane would weaken the case for having such weapons be made by European companies in the future such as the Future Combat Air Systems (FCAS) program, led by Airbus and Dassault.
Photo credit: Boeing and U.S. Air Force
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