WASHINGTON — German government leaders on Wednesday announced a deal to buy 35 F-35 fighter jets from the United States, a package pegged at $8.4 billion by the Pentagon in its offer from the summer.
Signature of the letter of acceptance caps Berlin’s years-long quest to replace the portion of its aging Tornado fleet tasked with carrying out NATO’s doctrine of nuclear weapons sharing. German officials had decided on the Lockheed Martin-made jet in the spring, setting in motion the purchasing process for the aircraft, weapons and spares.
Lawmakers approved the funding in a session of the parliamentary Budget Committee earlier on Wednesday. It’s part of a $14 billion batch of procurements German defense leaders will use to improve lackluster military capabilities over the coming years, drawing from a special $107 billion defense fund set up after Russia’s assault on Ukraine.
“It is an honor to formally welcome Germany to the F-35 Lightning II Program,” said Bridget Lauderdale, Lockheed Martin’s vice president and general manager of the F-35 program. “Germany’s participation ensures the F-35′s European alliance continues to strengthen and grow through interoperability with NATO and ally nations.”
Training of German pilots with the first new planes is slated to begin in 2026 in the United States. Those activities are scheduled to move to Germany the following year, before the Luftwaffe, Germany’s air force, declares an initial operational capability in 2028.
That timeline is of particular concern for the Germans because it requires facilities at the country’s F-35 base, Büchel in the west of Germany, to be ready for housing the modern planes by 2027.
Luftwaffe Chief of Staff Lt Gen. Ingo Gerhartz today told reporters in Berlin officials are in the process of tapping a general contractor with experience in building F-35-related infrastructure. The plan, he said, is to condense the permitting and construction process, which other officials have said can take six or seven years, to meet the envisioned 2027 target.
Military spokespeople in Berlin could not immediately say on Wednesday which contractor Gerhartz was referring to. In April, neighboring F-35 user Belgium, which plans to upgrade by 2025 the 1950s- and 1960s-era infrastructure at air bases Florennes and Kleine Brogel, awarded a Belgian-Dutch-U.S. consortium led by Jan De Nul a contract worth $692 million for the work.
Following Berlin’s purchase of the fifth-generation fighter jets, Lockheed Martin expects to reach out to local industry early in 2023 to include German subcontractors in the F-35 program, a company spokesman told Defense News.
Generally, there are limits to how much work can be awarded locally to international F-35 customers, as the jet contains secret technologies only the U.S. government and its contractors are allowed to service.
Editor’s note: This article was corrected to state that the F-35 is a fifth-generation aircraft.
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. He is based in Cologne, Germany.