Kramp-Karrenbauer’s commitment was made by e-mail to US Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Der Spiegel added, and confirmed that the 45 jets would be divided into 30 Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets adapted to carry B61-12 nuclear free-fall bombs for the nuclear strike mission, and 15 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to replace the current inventory of Tornado ECR electronic reconnaissance aircraft.
However, Airbus will not completely lose out, as a separate purchase of 45 Tranche 3B Eurofighters, probably fitted with AESA radars, is also planned, to replace the Luftwaffe’s early Tranche 1 aircraft that are now obsolete.
Der Spiegel also reported that Kramp-Karrenbauer, a member of the CDU conservative party, ignored the well-known objections of the SPD socialist party, the CDU’s partner in the governing coalition, before committing to buying the Boeing fighters. This, Der Spiegel added, will lead to a major confrontation between the two parties.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s commitment to buying a fleet of Super Hornets, however, hasn’t closed the issue, as the final decision will rest with the Bundestag, which is required to approve funding for each defense acquisition worth over 25 million euros.
From the SPD’s point of view, the decision to buy an all-F-18 fleet is a clear provocation, Der Spiegel said, adding that while a debate was expected on the issue, Kramp-Karrenbauer decided to cancel a public presentation of her plans on Thursday at short notice. But that didn't stop her from sending the email with the order confirmation to her colleague Esper.
The Tornado replacement is one of Germany’s largest defense contracts of the decade, and one of the most controversial as a strong industry lobby is pushing for the procurement of Eurofighter jets, which would be partially built and assembled in Germany by Airbus.
In 2019, then defense minister Ursula von der Leyen tried to calm the nascent controversy caused by her firing of then Luftwaffe chief of staff for having publicly called for procurement of the Lockheed Martin F-35. Her compromise was to buy a combination of Eurofighter jets and US fighters, but her successor Kramp-Karrenbauer did not follow her lead.
The SPD’s opposition is due to the fact that part of its members want Germany to drop the nuclear strike mission, and prefers that the United States withdraw the nuclear bombs it has stockpiled at Büchel air force base. Another SPD faction opposes awarding such a huge arms deal, worth several billion dollars, to an American firm.
Was folgt auf den #Tornado? Verteidigungsministerin Kramp-Karrenbauer @akk zur @dpa: «Wenn 2030 der letzte Tornado außer Dienst gestellt wird, braucht es einen entsprechenden Vorlauf für die Ersatzmaschinen.» Deswegen müssen die Entscheidungen jetzt auf den Weg gebracht werden. pic.twitter.com/V49t2omZJu— Verteidigungsministerium (@BMVg_Bundeswehr) April 14, 2020
(German defense ministry tweet quoting an interview by Defense Minister Kramp-Karrenbauer to the dpa wire service: “What follows Tornado ? If the last Tornado is to be retired in 2030, it will take a long lead time for their replacement aircraft," and that is why decisions must be taken now.)