Does Germany Want to Fly the F-35?: As Berlin’s Tornado fleet approaches the end of their service lives, what will replace them?
The new German government is investigating the F-35 as a potential replacement for their aged Tornado fighters. Here’s what you need to know about Germany, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s nuclear sharing agreement, and the F-35.
As a part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, Germany hosts an estimated 20 American tactical nuclear weapons. So to do Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Turkey. As a part of NATO’s nuclear agreement, it is possible that European pilots flying European jets could deliver American nuclear weapons during a conflict. And, as a part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, countries that host the American weapons are obligated to maintain a fleet of jets capable of delivering those weapons.
And while Germany’s Tornados are qualified with the nuclear weapons they host, the jets first flew in 1974, nearly half a century ago during the middle of the Cold War. As a result, they are unlikely to survive on a present-day battlefield against modern air defenses — a serious breach of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement.
New Government, New F-35s?
In recognition of how urgently a successor to the Tornado is needed — especially in light of increasing tensions with Russia — Germany’s newly-elected governing coalition may soon decide on a replacement.
German media reports that Christine Lambrecht, the new German Defense Minister, is reviewing the previous government’s decision to purchase American F/A-18 Super Hornets and if the F-35 stealth fighter could be a viable Tornado alternative.
It has been a bumper year for the 5th generation stealth fighter. Switzerland and Finland joined the ranks of F-35 operators, and Canada, too, it seems, is mulling an F-35 acquisition. Could Germany also decide to go the stealth route?
Significant domestic opposition to both Germany’s nuclear sharing obligations as well as American defense projects could scuttle the deal — though a close look at the possible options points to the F-35 as a sound choice.
As the world’s most prolific stealth fighter, the F-35 makes sense from a logistical and longevity standpoint. The F-35 remains in production for the foreseeable future. A number of Germany’s neighbors and treaty allies also fly or will soon fly the jet, including the United Kingdom, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Norway, Finland, Denmark, and Poland. This is a boon to interoperability.
F-35s Really Coming to Germany?
From a capabilities standpoint, the F-35 is also by far the most survivable platform Germany could acquire today. And considering NATO’s goal of deterrence, that alone is a strong argument for buying into the American stealth fighter program.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer based in Europe. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson