WASHINGTON — Boeing is ready to expand its German supplier network if the new Berlin government chooses to purchase versions of its F-18 fighter jet to replace a portion of the country’s Tornados, the company announced Tuesday.
The aerospace giant’s German subsidiary said it pinged more than 10 local companies to support Super Hornet and Growler variants, which Germany said years ago it would likely buy as part of a mixed fleet of F-18s and Eurofighters.
While the prospective local partners remained unnamed in the statement, Boeing claimed the outreach would amount to deals worth roughly €3.5 billion (U.S. $4 billion).
The timing of Boeing’s statement is noteworthy because it follows the news that German government leaders are reopening a series of examinations into the optimal post-Tornado fleet. The plan is to retire that aircraft in 2030.
Depending on who is asked, the studies are either a routine exercise in a new government getting its bearings on key decisions, or the product of a series of events that warrants a closer look at alternatives, including the Lockheed Martin-made F-35.
It also spotlights once again Germany’s unique requirement for a nuclear weapons-capable fighter-bomber that would carry on the Tornado assignments. Those entail keeping a fleet of aircraft that would be loaded with American atomic bombs to deploy in a hypothetical nuclear conflict.
Boeing’s pitch entailed the promise of a sophisticated electronic warfare plane, the Growler, paired with a nuclear-capable workhorse, the Block 3 Super Hornet, that wouldn’t break the bank.
But an unrelated hiccup in the complex French-German-Spanish Future Combat Air System may open the playing field in new ways, according to industry officials in Berlin. Aircraft maker Dassault, France’s national lead for the marquee program, has so far refused to share access to critical avionics information for the eventual FCAS plane, dubbed the Next-Generation Weapon System.
Germany has rejected such black box technology, with officials arguing access to the entire technology package is crucial for future maintenance and development work.
While some officials have said the demise of FCAS, or its breakup into ancillary efforts with greater cooperative promise, could pave the way for the F-35 — at least in the nuclear bombing role — others have argued a brand-new fifth-generation fighter fleet would be too shiny for a mission deeply unloved by Berlin.
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.