New confirmations that Berlin has chosen the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning to replace the Tornado.
“Germany will purchase F-35 fighter jets built by U.S. firm Lockheed Martin to replace its ageing Tornado aircraft, according to two government sources, with one of the sources saying Berlin aims to buy up to 35 of the stealth jets,” says a Reuters report dated Mar. 14, 2022. This appears to be yet another step towards a procurement of the 5th generation aircraft, after a series of rumours started circulating at the beginning of January that the F-35 option was “back on the table” (after being discarded in 2019) and another Reuters report, dating back to early February, according to which “Germany was leaning toward purchasing the F-35 but a final decision had not been taken.”
Once again, the reports have not found an official confirmation yet, although an announcement could come soon.
Will have to update this graphic from when the Eurofighter/Super Hornet/Growler selection was made in 2019 to now read Eurofighter/F-35A/Eurofighter ECR, but the three separate but related requirements remain the same, and numbers also likely to be much the same also. pic.twitter.com/ahsa4R6NpU
— Gareth Jennings (@GarethJennings3) March 14, 2022
As already explained, both the Tornado IDS (Interdiction and Strike) and ECR (Electronic Reconnaissance) fleets are approaching the end of their service life. Moreover, as a consequence of the age of the airframes, the German Air Force is facing a continuous increase in the maintenance costs as well as availability issues.
Several options have been considered in the last years to find a replacement for both the IDS and ECR. Although the latest reviewed plan is still not clear, it seems likely that the F-35s will be used to cover the tasks currently assigned to the Tornado IDS, including the nuclear strike role, while a number of Eurofighter ECR, an Electronic Combat Reconnaissance (ECR)/Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) version of the Eurofighter Typhoon that was first announced by Airbus back in 2019, slated to replace the Tornado ECRs and cover also the IuWES [Luftgestützte Wirkung im Elektromagnetischen Spektrum (luWES)] Electronic Attack requirement Germany has committed to provide to NATO.
My understanding so far was: 30ish US sourced aircraft to cover B61 duty (they can do strike too, but separate from ECR). Then 30-35 AC to cover Tornado ECR requirement (again, we need a full air force wing for that). Then 15 or so EW specialised AC to cover ECR etc on ops.
— Alex Luck (@AlexLuck9) March 14, 2022
Worth of remark is the fact that, unlike Italy, the only other operator of the SEAD variant of the “Tonka” and a Eurofighter Typhoon operator too, it looks like Germany plans to replace its Tornado ECRs with a brand new Eurofighter variant rather than considering the F-35 for the same role. In fact, the Italian Air Force considers the Lightning II stealth aircraft an “omnirole” aircraft and, as such, the service plans to replace its ECRs, flying with the 155th Gruppo (Squadron) at Ghedi Air Base, with the F-35.
Anyway, based on the information released when the concept was announced about three years ago, the new Eurofighter ECR should be based on a two-seat Typhoon equipped with two Escort Jammer Pods complemented by two Emitter Locator Systems installed into the wingtips, two/three 1000 liters fuel tanks and MBDA SPEAR-EW or AGM-88B HARM/AGM-88E AARGM missiles in addition to the standard air-to-air loadout of four Meteor and two IRIS-T. When the Eurofighter ECR will eventually be available remains to be seen, so as the eventual interest in the new specialized EA variant of other partner nations.
Update Mar. 14, 2022, 13.32GMT
An official announcement has eventually arrived.
Entscheidung zur Tornado-Nachfolge ist getroffen: Mit dem Flugzeugtyp F-35 wird die Aufgabe zur Nuklearen Teilhabe zukünftig gewährleistet bleiben. Ziel ist es, den Tornado bis 2030 zu ersetzen. pic.twitter.com/ItVxXRfjI9
— Verteidigungsministerium (@BMVg_Bundeswehr) March 14, 2022