The first Tornado fighter jet roared across the sky over Germany in 1974, ushering in a new era for the country’s air force.
The twin-seater combat aircraft served as the backbone of the Luftwaffe in the closing stages of the cold war and the turbulent years that followed. In 1999, a squadron of German Tornados took part in combat missions above Bosnia — the first by the Luftwaffe since the end of the second world war.
Now the ageing plane is heading for retirement — leaving the government in Berlin with a difficult choice that touches military, political and even nuclear sensitivities and that is bound to antagonise at least one of Germany’s closest allies. The government will decide this year which model should replace the Tornado when the 85-strong fleet goes out of service, starting in 2025.
One of the tasks the new aircraft will have to replicate is the ability to carry and deploy US nuclear weapons — one of the core capabilities still provided by the Tornado and its most contentious by far.
Defence officials agree there is no time to develop a new plane, meaning the lucrative contract will go to the maker of one of four existing aircraft: the Eurofighter, which is built by a consortium of German, British and Italian groups; or one of three US-made plans — the ultra-modern F-35A (Lightning II), the F-15E (Strike Eagle) or the F/A-18E/F (Super Hornet).
The size of the order has yet to be determined but is likely to be worth billions of euros. (end of excerpt)
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