STUTTGART, Germany — The U.S. State Department has approved a potential sale of over $8 billion worth of F-35 aircraft to Germany, moving closer to providing Berlin with new fighter aircraft for nuclear deterrence missions.
The State Department on Thursday announced the foreign military sales (FMS) approval for up to 35 F-35A aircraft, along with munitions and related equipment, for a total estimated cost of $8.4 billion.
These fighter jets, built by Lockheed Martin, will take over by 2030 the nuclear weapons mission from the German Air Force’s aging fleet of PA-200 Tornado aircraft, based at Tactical Air Wing 33 in Büchel, Germany.
German Air Force Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz and Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht announced in March the decision to procure the joint strike fighter, in a major reversal from previous plans to buy Boeing-made F-18 aircraft. In that statement, the two military leaders justified the decision by pointing to “a need for unity within NATO, and a credible deterrent” to Russia.
U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Brown met with Gerhartz earlier this month in Rostock, Germany, ahead of the Global Air and Space Chiefs Conference and the Farnborough Airshow in London.
The joint strike fighter was a major point of conversation between the two air force leaders, with Gerhartz telling Defense News “we are shaping our future” with the F-35.
Joining the joint strike fighter program is “an important milestone that will further intensify our ties,” Gerhartz said in an emailed statement to Defense News after the meeting in Rostock. “Shared weapons systems are the best basis for even closer cooperation.”
A source close to the F-35 program told Defense News that should the sale to Germany be approved, the aircraft would likely be built at the Lockheed Martin facilities in Fort Worth, Texas.
Alongside Lockheed Martin, the principal contractors involved with this F-35 sale include Pratt & Whitney, providing 37 F135 engines, as well as Boeing and Raytheon Technologies. Proposed munitions packages include the AIM120C-8 Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM); GBU-53 small diameter bombs; AGM-158 Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles-Extended Range (JASSM-ER); Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) tail kits; and AIM-9X Sidewinder missiles.
Germany is but one of several European nations that has opted for the U.S.-made F-35 to replenish its fighter jet fleets. Most recently, Greece has sent an official letter of request to procure 20 F-35As by 2028, while the Czech Republic wants the aircraft to replace its aging fleet of Saab JAS 39 Gripens.
Meanwhile, Finland plans to spend $10 billion to buy 64 F-35 aircraft to replace its F-18 Hornets, with initial deliveries to start in 2026. Switzerland also selected the joint strike fighter in 2021, committing to 36 aircraft that will replace its own Hornet fleet.
Poland will receive 32 F-35A aircraft beginning in 2024, after a letter of agreement was signed between Warsaw and Washington in January 2020. Belgium also selected the F-35 in 2018, and will receive 34 aircraft, per Lockheed Martin.
Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.