The F-35 would be used to replace the German Air Force Tornado in the nuclear strike role.
Germany is once again considering the F-35 as a potential replacement of its ageing Tornado fleet, that Berlin plans to retire by the end of the decade. Confirming the first media reports dating back to the beginning of January, multiple sources told Reuters last week that, after being discarded in 2019, the F-35 option would be “back on the table”.
The renewed interest in Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation aircraft has not been officially confirmed but according to the rumors “There have been recent efforts to inform Germany of how to move ahead with a potential F-35 purchase”. A decision is not expected anytime soon.
As we have already explained, the service life of the Tornado IDS (Interdiction and Strike) and ECR (Electronic Reconnaissance) fleets are nearing their end, and the German Air Force is facing a continuous increase in the maintenance costs and availability issues.
Several options have been considered in the last years to find a replacement for both the IDS and ECR.
In 2019, the F-35 was discarded because of fears that purchasing the U.S. stealth jet could undermine the development of the Franco-German FCAS (Future Combat Air System), supposed to be ready in the 2040s. In the beginning, Germany considered replacing the Tornado entirely with Eurofighters, with the new Eurofighter ECR variant replacing the specialized Tornado ECR. A subsequent plan envisaged replacing the Tornado with a mixed fleet of Eurofighter Typhoons and Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornets, a decision also motivated by concerns that the Eurofighter ECR would take too long to develop and field, making the Growler the only viable option.
Still, the mixed Eurofighter/Super Hornet/Growler fleet would not have been a turnkey solution anyway. In fact, neither the Eurofighter nor the Super Hornet are nuclear capable and Germany needs a nuclear capable aircraft to fulfill the NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement after the Tornado IDS is phased out.
In 2020, the MoD assessed with United States that the integration of the B-61 nuclear bomb would be faster on the American-made aircraft, while it would have taken from three to five years longer on the Eurofighter.
The selection of the F/A-18 sparked some controversies in Germany as industry and government officials argued that four billion euros would be withdrawn from German industry and its suppliers, damaging the industry and causing also higher costs for the taxpayers, since the Air Force would need to build new infrastructure for a relatively small number of aircraft.
Anyway, in 2020, 55 Eurofighters, 30 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 E/A-18G Growlers were the mix selected by Germany to replace the Tornados.
However, the procurement was postponed until after the German federal election of October 2021 and when the newly-formed German coalition renewed Germany’s commitment in the NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, the F/A-18F had been removed from the list of aircraft to be certified to carry the B-61 nuclear bomb. “There is not a requirement for the F/A-18F to be certified to carry the B61-12” the U.S. DoD told the Federation of American Scientists.
As a consequence, the F-35A is back in the game, with Germany Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht launching a new study that will need to clarify whether buying the more modern F-35 aircraft could be an alternative and whether the Eurofighter could be used to replace the Tornado ECR.