Germany: Will the Return of the F-35 Spell the end of FCAS/NGF?
(Source: Special to; posted Jan. 24, 2022)

By Alistair Davidson

If the nuclear mission of the Tornado's successor is the most politically sensitive subject, it does not have a great urgency for the German Air Force: its priority is electronic warfare, the mix planned by the previous coalition – 30 Super Hornet and 15 Super Growler – was the best combination possible.

Can this priority be undermined by the plans of the current coalition?

Mrs Lambrecht, the new defense minister, has indeed expressed the wish for a European option, i.e, the Eurofighter in electronic warfare version (ECR-SEAD). In a presentation dated November 5, 2019, Airbus estimated that the Eurofighter could replace the Tornado in all its missions: 45 for the nuclear mission and 40 for electronic warfare (so-called ECR-SEAD version). The sole rub: none of these two versions exists.

The nuclear certification of the Eurofighter is impossible as the German MoD finally realized at the end of December. The U.S National Nuclear Security Administration published, at the beginning of December, a follow-up notice of its B-61-12 program, an evolution of its free-fall nuclear bomb, in which it stated that “The B61-12 LEP is critical to sustaining the Nation's air delivered nuclear deterrent capability. It will be air-delivered in either ballistic gravity or guided drop modes and is being certified for delivery on current strategic aircraft (B-2A) and dual capable aircraft (F-15E, F-16C/D & MLU, PA-200) as well as future aircraft platforms (F-35, B-21).”

This notice excludes not only the Eurofighter but also, for the first time, the F/A-18 E/F, which was listed in the previous version.

The ECR-SEAD version of Eurofighter, which has still to be developed, will lack anyway from operational feedbacks, unlike the Super Growler. The better shortcut is therefore the purchase of the US EW fighter. However, purchasing two U.S fighters at the same time is clearly not a wise political decision.

By authorizing "Prufaufträge" (test orders), the coalition seems to be heading towards a compromise that it hopes quick and smart, even though it may be detrimental to the French-German FCAS/NGF next-generation fighter project.

Acquisition of the F-35 for the nuclear mission.

Playing on the quantity (less than 45: 20 to 30) could reduce the opposition of the Greens and the left wing of the SPD, and avoid presenting this order as a beginning of a substitute for the FCAS/NGF whose budgets would dry up (as they were elsewhere in Europe, each time the F-35 has been ordered).

The coalition considers possible to conclude a deal: acquisition of 20 to 30 F-35 in exchange for the U.S purchase of the Airbus tankers. The acquisition of the F-35 would also have a diplomatic advantage: sending a clear message to Russia that Germany does not give up the nuclear aspect of the Atlantic Alliance.

Acquisition of the ECR-SEAD version of the Eurofighter

To maintain the workload of the German aerospace & defence industry and replace the Tornado ICD/EDS; this order would therefore complement the ‘Quadriga’ order signed on November 12, 2020 (38 Eurofighter to replace the earlier Tranche 1 aircraft).

These recent developments demonstrate that the coalition contract is being respected: from the start of the legislature, the coalition is studying the replacement of the Tornado with discernment.

Ditto for the weaponization of the Israeli drones, whose use should be regulated in the coming weeks at the Ministry of Defence.

It will be interesting to see how the coalition moves forward on both issues.


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