Germany Lw F 35A 01 USAF 640Will the Luftwaffe opt for the F-35A?

Given recent developments in the German government, it seems like the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II still makes a good chance. While Germany is now surrounded by countries that are flying, or going to fly, with the Lightning II, there are some doubts about the path that was followed the past years.

While neighbouring country the Netherlands is already operating with a squadron F-35As, soon other NATO countries will follow. Other adjacent countries to Germany that will operate the F-35A in the future are Belgium, Denmark and Poland. And southern non-NATO neighbour Switzerland has also selected the F-35 to be the main fighter for its air force for years to come. Just recently, Finland joined the Lightning II community when they decided to procure 64 aircraft.

At the end of 2021, a new German government was installed and started its work shortly before Christmas. The newly elected government is reportedly considering the F-35A as a potential replacement for the Panavia Tornado. The luftwaffe however, has been hunting for a suitable replacement for the obsolete Tornado since 2017, which is now deemed too old to be engaged in NATO missions. The Tornado Electronic combat and Reconnaissance (ECR) aircraft is scheduled to be retired from active service in or around 2025.

Germany Lw F 35A 02 USAF 320The Tornado ECR strike aircraft is devoted to Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD) missions and to deliver the US-made B61 thermo nuclear gravity bomb as part of NATO nuclear sharing and deterrence. Conveniently, the F-35A is on the brink of receiving full operational status carrying the latest B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.

Strikingly, in March 2018, Luftwaffe’s Chief Lt. Gen. Karl Müllner, which actively supported the F-35 programme, clashed with the Ministry of Defence planning, which prefered a successor solution which should involve newly built Eurofighter EF2000 Typhoons. In May 2018, soon after the Berlin Internationale Luft- und Raumfahrtausstellung (ILA), which, ironically, saw two USAF F-35As arriving at an airshow in Germany for the first time, Gen. Müllner had to leave his post. This, largely in part due to his support for a German procurement of the F-35A.

Germany Lw F 35A 03 Lockheed Martin 320In the past, new Eurofighters and/or a combination of Boeing F-18 Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers were named as a successor of the Tornado. It is certain that no decisions have been made yet. Also, with more countries operating the F-35 and surrounding Germany, a purchase in the context of interoperability could be very convenient. Buying the Lightning II could also make sense for Germany given the steady declines in the cost of the F-35.

To be continued ...

Credit photos: Lockheed Martin and USAF

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