COLOGNE, Germany ― Germany’s Ministry of Defence has officially ruled out the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter as a choice to replace its aging Tornado fleet, Defense News has learned.
An official from the ministry confirmed that the F-35 is not a finalist in the competition, which seeks a replacement for the 90-jet fleet. The news was first reported by German site AugenGeradeaus.
The move is not altogether surprising. Berlin for some time has officially favored an upgraded version of the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon — built by a consortium of Airbus, Leonardo and BAE Systems — as the Tornado replacement. The main argument is to keep European companies involved in building combat aircraft and, perhaps even more importantly, staying clear of disturbing Franco-German momentum in armaments cooperation.
However, the decision leaves open the question of certification for nuclear weapons. The Typhoon is not certified to carry the American-made nuclear bombs that Germany, as part of its strategic posture, is supposed to be able to carry on its jets.
Competing against the Typhoon is Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet.
Before the German MoD confirmed that the F-35 was officially out of the running, Reuters on Thursday reported that the ministry was considering splitting the buy between the Typhoon and either the F-35 or Super Hornet.
Ordering both the Typhoon and an American aircraft would make it easier to continue carrying out the NATO nuclear mission, while also lending support to the European industrial base. However, it could complicate logistics, adding more expense and forcing the German Air Force to maintain two supply chains.
It’s worth noting that despite complaints about the cost of keeping the aging Tornados flying, keeping around a certain number of them has always been under consideration — a painful, but not impossible, proposition among some defense experts. That is especially the case for the nuclear mission.
“There does not have to be a nuclear Tornado replacement,” Karl-Heinz Kamp, president of the government think tank Federal Academy for Security Policy, told Defense News in August. He noted that any German government is acutely averse to the publicity surrounding Berlin’s would-be atomic bombers.
“That’s why they will keep flying the Tornados, despite the price tag and despite having asked about a Eurofighter nuclear certification in Washington,” Kamp predicted at the time.
German defense officials on Thursday evening stressed that no decisions had been made besides reducing the playing field to the FA-18 and the Eurofighter Typhoon. The MoD will request additional information from the respective manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, on the issues of operations, economic viability and timing, these officials said.
Germany’s decision appears to have been a surprise for F-35 manufacturer Lockheed Martin, which was not told by the ministry of the imminent announcement.
“We have not been officially notified of a decision on Germany’s future fighter,” Lockheed spokesman Mike Friedman said in an emailed response to a query. “The F-35 delivers unmatched value as the most capable and lowest life-cycle cost aircraft, while delivering the strongest long-term industrial and economic opportunities compared to any fighter on the market. As the foundation of NATO’s next generation of air power, the F-35 is the most advanced aircraft in the world today, and includes Electronic Attack capabilities well beyond any specialized fourth generation aircraft.”
Valerie Insinna in Washington contributed to this report.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News.