Will Germany Choose America's F-15EX as Its New Fighter?

David Axe

Key point: Berlin hasn't made up its mind what kind of new plane it needs.

The German air force will select a new fighter aircraft in early 2020, German minister of defense Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer announced in late September 2019.

The plane will replace the Luftwaffe’s fleet of 93 Panavia Tornado fighter-bombers and complement the service’s roughly 140 Eurofighter Typhoons. For the longer term, Germany is working with France to develop a next-generation warplane under the Future Combat Air System program.

It’s unclear how many new fighters Berlin wants and therefore exactly how much the purchase could cost. But the price is likely to be in the billions of dollars.

Officially, just two types are in the running for the German acquisition -- the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the Typhoon. Berlin in early 2019 dropped the Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter from the competition.

Defense News called the move “not altogether surprising.”

Berlin for some time has officially favored an upgraded version of the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon — built by a consortium of Airbus, Leonardo and BAE Systems — as the Tornado replacement. The main argument is to keep European companies involved in building combat aircraft and, perhaps even more importantly, staying clear of disturbing Franco-German momentum in armaments cooperation.

But there’s a problem. The German air force as part of its commitment to NATO must contribute tactical fighters to the alliance’s plans for “tactical” nuclear warfare. Under the NATO scheme, fighters from across the alliance would drop American nuclear bombs.

The Tornado is compatible with nukes but neither the F/A-18E/F nor the Typhoon can carry atomic weapons. “Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer asked Washington to spell out what it will take to get those aircraft certified,” Scramble magazine reported. “This certification process will take years and creates a problem as the costs of maintaining the 93-strong fleet of beautiful Tornados is rapidly rising.”

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