Over the last few weeks, a debate has intensified in German political and national security circles on the issue of replacing Panavia Tornado jets for the Luftwaffe. With entry into service in 1979, the Tornado as presently operated by the Luftwaffe fulfills three key requirements. First, it is the dedicated strike and ground support asset of the service. Second, the Tornado assumes, in its ECR-configuration, the mission to suppress and destroy enemy air defenses (SEAD/DEAD). Last, as part of the nuclear sharing-agreement with the United States, the system is configured to deliver B61 tactical nuclear weapons, stored at the German airbase of Buechel.
This article is focused on the immediate operational requirement to replace a vintage aircraft type with a modern capable asset fulfilling all Luftwaffe requirements, while at the same time creating enough maneuvering space for a likely drawn-out discussion on the future of nuclear sharing and relevant repercussions for force adaption.
After some significant debates, controversies, and delays over the cost of new aircraft, German Minister for Defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer made a preliminary decision on the subject in late April. The intention, as to be confirmed via parliamentary approval, would be to replace the 85 Tornado jets with the Eurofighter and the American-made F/A-18 Super Hornet. The German government would purchase 45 airframes, split between 15 Growler Electronic Attack and SEAD-versions, and 30 E/F-models, the latter of which would be used for the nuclear mission.
In addition, the Luftwaffe would acquire another 93 Eurofighters: 38 of which would replace older EF Tranche 1 models already in service with the Luftwaffe; 40 aircraft to replace the Tornado for strike missions; and as contract option, a further 15 aircraft for Electronic Attack.
This proposal has caused further controversy within Social Democratic Party (SPD)-parts of government and industry represented by the German Industry Association (BDI) over the choice of an American aircraft, the total and relative numbers of the aircraft chosen, and notably, a debate about Germany’s hosting of American nuclear weapons and maintaining pilots and planes to drop them.
Politicians from the SPD, Germany’s center-left government partner of the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU), are now demanding an outright end of the nuclear sharing agreement, with others questioning the wisdom to choose the Super Hornet and implying a complete revisit of the fighter requirements. (end of excerpt)
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