Germany has confirmed it will buy more Eurofighter EF2000s to replace its Panavia Tornado ECR electronic warfare aircraft, and up to 35 Lockheed Martin F-35As to replace the Tornado IDS in the tactical nuclear strike role.
The move comes in the face of Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine and increasing tensions in eastern and central Europe which have prompted NATO member nations to increase defence spending.
While Germany doesn’t have its own nuclear weapons, a number of its fighters have been allocated to NATO to deliver US tactical weapons. The cost and effort of modifying and certifying the Eurofighter for the nuclear mission has been seen as prohibitive, so the F-35A will be acquired for this role.
Germany had previously approved an acquisition of the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet for the nuclear role, which would have also opened up the possibility of an EA-18G Growler acquisition for the electronic attack mission.
But the US Navy’s Super Hornet is not used in the nuclear delivery role, so a modification and certification program would have also been required for that aircraft. Conversely, the F-35A was developed for the nuclear mission, only requiring a modified software load to be able to employ the special weapons.
“There is only one response to Putin’s aggression: unity within NATO and a credible deterrent,” Luftwaffe Chief of Staff LtGen Ingo Gerhartz said in a 15 March release. “That’s why there is no alternative to the decision in favour of the F-35.”
A previous Luftwaffe head, LtGen Karl Müllner was reportedly removed from his post in 2018 after he publicly advocated for a larger buy of F-35s ahead of the then government’s plan to acquire more Eurofighters and the preferred Super Hornet/Growler option.