The German Government has reportedly approved a mixed buy of Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft, and Eurofighter EF-2000 fighters for the Luftwaffe to replace its remaining fleet of 90 Panavia Tornados.
An April 22 report in Der Spiegel says Germany will acquire 30 Super Hornets to conduct the NATO tactical nuclear mission currently assigned to the Panavia Tornado, and 15 EA-18Gs to replace its Tornado ECR EW aircraft. Germany is also looking to replace up to 80 early-build Eurofighters with new aircraft with vastly enhanced capabilities.
While European NATO alliance members are not nuclear powers themselves, they are obliged to assign a limited number of aircraft and crews to be certified for the tactical nuclear mission in support of possible NATO operations against Russia.
The Super Hornet buy is considered controversial in Europe, with local industry advocating hard for European-built aircraft. But the Eurofighter has not been adapted for the nuclear mission, and is unlikely to be certified to do so by the US which provides the weapons to the alliance.
But while the US-built Super Hornet would be certified, it has not yet conducted flight and clearance testing of the B61 free-fall weapon, although this is reported to be imminent.
A German Super Hornet would also be capable of performing complex maritime strike missions in the relatively crowded Baltic Sea. The German Marineflieger relinquished that role in 2005 when it transferred its remaining Tornados to the Luftwaffe.
Germany already has a close military working relationship with the US DoD. Apart from its NATO ties and a number of USAF and Army units being based in Germany, the Luftwaffe has had a squadron of F-4F Phantoms, then Tornados, and now Eurofighters based at the German Air Force Tactical Training Center (TTC) at Holloman AFB in New Mexico.
The Tornado ECR is operated by Germany and Italy, and has undergone a number of improvements since entering service in the 1980. But despite it remaining quite capable, the airframes are becoming increasingly costly to sustain and operate. If the Luftwaffe acquires Super Hornets, as happened with Australia, it opens up an approval process and an economical sustainment path to operate the EA-18G which shares more than 95 per cent systems and structural commonality with the F/A-18E/F.
Germany operates the Multi-national Aircrew Electronic Warfare Tactics Facility (MAEWTF), or ‘Polygone’ ranges with the US and France in the country’s southwest, giving it an advanced EW training range on home soil it can use with allied and against dissimilar systems.
In order to provide its Growlers with complete data sets/libraries, Germany will likely have to establish a data centre in the US in conjunction with the US Navy, similar that operated with the RAAF at Point Mugu in California.
German Super Hornets will likely be of the new US Navy Block III standard as Block II production has ended, but Growler production is yet to switch to Block II which incorporates 5th gen system equivalent to the F/A-18E/F Block III.
The original Tranche 1 Eurofighters operated by Germany and other European nations entered service in the late-1990s. But Trance 1 is rapidly being overtaken in capability in the region, and are not considered to be economical nor structurally suitable to be upgraded to the latest Tranche 3+ standard.