The federal government has made a decision: the American F-35 stealth jet and the further developed Eurofighter are to replace the aging Tornado fleet. This is how they want to please Washington and Paris – and credibly deter Russia.
One could see the relief of the German air force chief Ingo Gerhartz on Monday when he appeared before the press together with Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht. Both confirmed reports that Germany had made a decision on Tornado succession. Up to 35 American F-35 stealth jets and 15 further developed Eurofighters are to replace the aging combat aircraft.
The purchase of the F-35A jet from the American manufacturer Lockheed Martin is not just a detail for air force experts. The machine, which is considered to be the most modern combat aircraft in the world, will ultimately ensure Germany’s nuclear participation within the framework of NATO. What is meant by this is that pilots and machines from European countries bring American atomic bombs to the drop site in the event of a conflict. The air force chief expressly mentioned the credible deterrence against Russia. “That’s why our decision for the F-35 is without alternative,” said the lieutenant general.
«Charming in terms of industrial policy»
At the same time, the European combat aircraft Eurofighter is to be further developed in such a way that it can also be used in modern electronic air combat – i.e. the identification and combating of enemy air defense systems. This is to ensure that armaments-related key technology is developed in Europe. The FDP defense politician Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann had previously described this solution as “charming” in terms of industrial policy.
The “traffic light” has thus kept its promise given in the coalition agreement to decide quickly on the successor to the tornado. At the same time, she has turned away from the plans of the previous government. They had decided against the F-35. Instead, the Christian Democratic Minister of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer relied on American F-18 aircraft of various types and Eurofighters.
consideration for France
“With the intention of purchasing older F-18s instead of the ultra-modern F-35s, France was primarily taken into consideration,” says Torben Schütz, an expert on security policy at the German Society for Foreign Relations in Berlin. “The French feared that by opting for the F-35, the Germans would lack the will and the means to participate in the long-term development of a European combat aircraft system.” France, Germany and Spain want to develop a new air combat system called FCAS by 2040, which will include drones and satellite technology in addition to a combat aircraft. The costs for the development alone are estimated at around 100 billion euros.
On Monday, Minister Lambrecht tried to dispel French fears that FCAS would be at the expense of the F-35. Germany wants to stick to the joint project. She made that clear during a visit to France. Together with the announced further development of the Eurofighter, the decision in favor of the F-35 was therefore probably considered to be justifiable in Berlin in terms of European policy. The transatlantic bond, on the other hand, may not only have been strengthened by a major order from a US company. Washington will be happy that Berlin has finally clarified the future of nuclear sharing after years of stagnation.
Available on the market
The benefits of opting for the F-35 are obvious to proponents like the German air force chief. The aircraft cannot be located by enemy radar, or only with great difficulty. Internally routed weapons bays, for example, reduce what is known as the radar reflecting surface. In addition, unlike the F-18, US certification for Germany’s nuclear participation is well advanced. In addition, the model is available on the market and does not have to be developed at great expense. And because more and more European countries – including Switzerland – have recently opted for the F-35, there is another advantage: the European armies can cooperate more easily.
From the point of view of the expert Schütz, however, the decision to further develop the Eurofighter could prove to be problematic. “Developing the electronic combat capability of the Eurofighter will take years at Airbus. The Air Force could face a capability gap if the Tornado has to be retired but the new system isn’t ready.”