Excellent news though it is that the German Parliament has now signed off the proposed deal for the Luftwaffe to acquire 35 of the hugely successful Lockheed Martin F-35A Joint Strike Fighter variant, I can hardly ignore what I regard as being some really poor press reporting today in regard of this highly significant purchase and in particularly, suggestions that ‘this is a blow to the hopes of the Eurofighter Typhoon consortium’.
Let me say loud and clear that Eurofighter Typhoon was not a contestant in this particular procurement process for reasons that I will talk about further down in this piece but put simply because, unlike the existing fleet of German Panavia Tornado aircraft that the F-35 will replace, Eurofighter Typhoon has and probably never will be adapted to carry nuclear weapon capability.
For the record, the F-35A military jet on which the proposed procurement of 35 aircraft was yesterday cleared by the German Parliament, are being acquired specifically to replace the existing German Luftwaffe fleet of Panavia Tornado military jet – one that is capable of carrying and deploying US produced B61 free-fall tactical nuclear weapons of which Germany holds 20 as part of its NATO nuclear sharing agreement.
While it is true that Eurofighter Typhoon was originally considered as a possible potential replacement for the nuclear carrying variant of the Panavia Tornado it was quickly ruled out years ago due to lack of certification to carry nuclear weapons – a process that would, had it ever been contemplated, have taken between three to five years at least that would have required moving through a long and potentially costly process in the USA and little if any additional incentive for prospective future Eurofighter Typhoon sales internationally. Thus, it was sensibly deemed to be too expensive to contemplate implementation along these lines.
Given that the Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet was, for still unexplained reason, suddenly no longer certified to carry the US made B61-12 nuclear weapon capability, although this highly successful capability was initially considered as a contender for purchase by the German Government because it had sufficient capacity, by the time the new German Coalition Government was formed late last year the US National Nuclear Security Administration had in its infinite wisdom chosen to remove the F/A-18F from its list of aircraft certified to carry the B-61-12 nuclear weapon.
From that point on the Lockheed Martin F-35A was always going to be the aircraft of choice for the specific German Government NATO nuclear weapon carrying role because the process to achieve nuclear design certification had been underway now for some considerable time. With various elements of the mission testing requirement for deploying the B61-12 nuclear weapon already complete, the F-35A will, when finally cleared, become the first fifth generation platform to achieve compatibility for deployment of the refurbished B61-12 nuclear gravity bomb.
Germany has though in the various decisions made over the past three years to replace its ageing fleet of Tornado and the Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoon capability quite rightly in my view chosen to acquire a mix of fast jet capability in order to achieve and deploy covering the range of mission requirements covering domestic and NATO roles. As it does here in the in the UK and other NATO countries, the combination of Typhoon and F-35 makes for formidable force capability and both will serve the nation that have the capability well over the next 20 years and beyond.
It was by the way back in November 2020 that the German Government confirmed purchase of 38 new Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft in order to replace the existing fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon Tranche 1 aircraft and which, as with those still serving in the Royal Air Force before their planned retirement which is due to be all but complete with the next year shortly, had been built solely for the air to air combat role. In the case of German Luftwaffe Tranche 1 Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, these have been in operational service since 2004.
The new fleet of Eurofighter Typhoon capability ordered will, as existing Tranche 2 and 3 Eurofighter Typhoon capability has, dual air-to-air and air to ground mission capability. However, the new Typhoon variant to be acquire and currently in production will have significant additional enhanced technology including ESCAN radar with delivery of the aircraft ordered planned from 2025.
Meanwhile, the procurement of 35 F-35A aircraft signed off by the German Parliament yesterday and that will eventually replace the nuclear carrying Tornado variant will, I believe, be delivered between 2026 and 2029. The agreement with Lockheed Martin includes a comprehensive package of engines, role-specific mission equipment, spare and replacement parts, technical and logistic support, training and armament.
To date, the three individual variants of the F-35 aircraft are operating from 26 bases worldwide, with nine nations operating F-35s on their home soil. There are more than 875 F-35 aircraft in service today, with more than 1,845 pilots and 13,350 maintainers trained and supporting the aircraft wherever it is based. UK companies including BAE Systems produce 15% of each and every F-35 aircraft built.
For the record, my understanding is that Luftwaffe fleet of 93 Tornado IDS and ECR fighter bomber aircraft that have served them so well since the 1980’s is planned fora phased withdrawal from service from 2025.
So, the future, ahead of the UK/Italian and Japan ‘Global Combat Air Programme’ and the French/German/Spanish ‘Future Combat Air System’ sixth generation capability emerging, should the latter Franco/German led programme ever gets its act together, will be NATO led air superiority in Europe – led by F-35 Joint Strike Fighter capability and Eurofighter Typhoon. I can think of no better combination than that to keep the skies above safe. Bothe these fine military jet programmes have still got a very long way to go.
CHW (London -15th December 2022)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785