A German defence source told Reuters on Feb. 3, 2022 that the Luftwaffe (German Air Force) is moving toward buying the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter to replace its ageing Tornado in the role of nuclear sharing. However, a final decision has not been taken.
A claim confirmed also by another source close to the Germany military that said that a possible F-35 purchase was “back on the table”, but no decisions were expected anytime soon.
A third source told Reuters that “There have been recent efforts to inform Germany of how to move ahead with a potential F-35 purchase.”
A government spokesperson in Berlin was not immediately available for comment.
To remain part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement Germany needs to replace its ageing Tornado fighter bombers swiftly, something the new government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to do.
The Tornado is the only German jet capable of carrying US nuclear bombs, stored in Germany, in case of a conflict. But the air force has been flying the jet since the 1980s, and Berlin is planning to phase it out between 2025 and 2030.
Germany’s new coalition said it will purchase a replacement early in its four-year term in office. Without this move, Berlin would drop out of nuclear sharing when the last Tornado retires around 2030.
The Luftwaffe 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 then German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told the US government in April 2020 that Berlin has given clearance for the service to acquire 45 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G 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. 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).
Should Germany decide to buy the F-35, it would be a blow for Boeing.
A decision to go with the F-35 could also upset France. As already reported in 2019 in fact 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 [that as the New Generation Fighter (NGF) should be ready in the 2040s], led by Airbus and Dassault.
It was not clear how many F-35 jets Germany may attempt to purchase.
Photo credit: MSgt John Nimmo Sr. / U.S. Air Force
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