In a blow to Eurofighter and FCAS, Germany to buy 35 F-35s for replacing ageing nuclear capable Tornado fighter

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Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P Chacko
Joseph P. Chacko is the publisher of Frontier India. He holds an M.B.A in International Business. Books: Author: Foxtrot to Arihant: The Story of Indian Navy's Submarine Arm; Co Author : Warring Navies - India and Pakistan. *views are Personal

The German government intends to purchase F-35 fighter jets manufactured by Lockheed Martin to re-equip the German Air Force. The DPA agency reported this on Monday, citing sources in the German Cabinet.

According to DPA, the F-35 should replace the obsolete Tornado aircraft in service. Germany plans to purchase about 35 F-35 aircraft. 

The F-35 fighter, according to DPA, is considered the most modern combat aircraft in the world and is also being purchased for Germany’s so-called nuclear participation. According to the DPA, this will be the first significant procurement project for the re-equipment of the German Air Force since the start of Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. The possible cost of the F-35 purchase has not yet been announced.

In view of the Russian special operation in Ukraine, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that Germany would invest more than 2% of national GDP in defense at the end of February. A € 100 billion special fund would be created from the state budget for 2022. The funds are supposed to be used in investments and projects of field weapons.

Debating the Russian special operations in Ukraine at the end of February, the Chairwoman of the Defense Committee, Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, had said, “The first step today is the Tornado successor. Now we need the F-35, the most modern combat aircraft in the world and from many of our partners use,” said the FDP politician. The war in Ukraine clearly shows that “attacks are carried out from the air and must be answered or prevented accordingly,” she said.

Under the impact of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Germany has broken a core foreign policy doctrine and shipped arms to a war zone.

Reduction in Eurofighter orders

At the same time, as the agency points out, as part of the German Air Force modernization program, Germany plans to purchase an additional 15 Eurofighter fighters. However, the manufacturer Airbus has yet to technically equip them for the Electronic Warfare role, which is considered a complicated task. The F-35s are already equipped for limited electronic combat.

Earlier, Eurofighters were considered for nuclear certification because of the U.S. refusal to hand over the source codes. 

Impact on the FCAS project

Berlin worried that the purchase of the F-35 could counteract their own Franco-German armaments project: the construction of a European “combat aircraft of the future” (FCAS/ Future Combat Air System/ NGF). But these concerns should now have receded into the background since other NATO partners also use the F-35. “Synergy effects” are possible in operation.

This month, Dassault Aviation CEO Éric Trappier said that he is tired of waiting for the goodwill of Airbus for the future combat aircraft project. 

As more time passes, the prospect of the commissioning of FCAS is receding. “For the NGF, we said, roughly speaking: ‘first aircraft in 2040’. In reality, as we are falling far behind, it will be after 2040 for an initial standard. And by the time there is a definitive standard, and the armed forces take it into account, you will have operational planes in 2050”, warned the CEO of Dassault Aviation. He said he is waiting for the signature of Airbus.

Dassault Aviation wants to ensure its function as a prime contractor for the NGF. Dassault intends to keep the flight controls, the functional architecture [on which the operational capacities depend], the human-machine interface and stealth under its scope of work. Airbus, which will eventually be responsible for two-thirds of the production of FCAS, apparently does not hear it that way. Hence the blockage.

Phase 1A of the FCAS will end in the first quarter of 2022, i.e., March and phase 1B is not yet signed. 

Why is Germany buying the F-35?

The F-35 stealth jet is considered the most modern combat aircraft in the world. Due to the fighter’s special shape and stealth coating, the high-tech planes are difficult for enemy radar to detect. The plane flies at 1.6 times the speed of sound and can transport almost ten tons of weapons – including nuclear weapons. Six infrared cameras on the outer shell record the surroundings during flight – and transmit the images directly to the pilot’s helmet, which gives him a 360-degree view.

As mentioned, the aircraft will be used to replace the Luftwaffe’s ageing Tornados as part of Germany’s ‘so-called’ nuclear participation scheme. In the event of war, U.S. nuclear weapons are flown to the target by fighter jets from participating countries. The Tornados have been in service since the 1980s and are scheduled to be retired between 2025 and 2030.

The decision in favour of the F-35 stealth aircraft is also a setback for Boeing. The former Secretary of Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer had spoken out in favour of the U.S. aircraft manufacturer’s F-18 as a Tornado replacement.


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