BERLIN --- From 2025, the Bundeswehr's aging Tornado fleet will be replaced by up to 90 additional Eurofighter jets and 45 F-18 fighter planes from the US manufacturer Boeing, Handelsblatt and other German media reported today, adding that the F-18 will be procured for both electronic warfare and nuclear strike missions.
The internal plan prepared by the Bundeswehr has already been discussed with industry, according to the dpa news agency, but Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) has yet to approve the plan.
If approved, Handelsblatt reported, Germany would buy 30 F-18E/F Super Hornets to replace the Tornado in the nuclear strike mission, as modifying a US fighter would be faster and simpler than modifying the Eurofighter, assuming the US government would accept.
In addition, Germany would also buy 15 EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to replace the Tornado ECR variant.
Additional Eurofighters would take on the other missions now carried out by the Tornado fleet, mainly reconnaissance and ground attack. The relatively large number of at least 78 additional Eurofighters -- but possibly over 90 – will be attained because additional new aircraft will also be bought as replacements for older Tranche 1 Eurofighters.
The Bundeswehr currently operates a total of 234 combat aircraft, including 141 Eurofighters from Airbus and 93 Tornado jets built by the European Panavia consortium. The Tornado, which was launched almost 40 years ago, is intended for air attack, tactical reconnaissance and electronic warfare – as well as for nuclear strike using American-supplied gravity nuclear bombs.
There has been a long controversy about the Tornado’s successor, which involves a double-digit billion euro amount over the years. The plan now being negotiated is intended to reconcile security policy requirements with industrial policy, which among other things involves strong Bavarian interests. The Airbus armaments division has its headquarters in Bavaria, Eurofighters are finally assembled in Manching. Either way - a future federal government will only make the final decision on the timeline.
The project is also politically difficult because of the “special role” of the Tornado: NATO's nuclear deterrent concept provides that allies have access to US nuclear weapons in the event of war, i.e. they must be able to carry the bombs to their destination. Officially never confirmed, but a kind of open secret: 20 thermonuclear B61 gravity bombs from the US armed forces are to be stored in Büchel air base, in the Eifel region, can be fitted to the German Tornados in case of war.