Will Germany Ever Replace Panavia Tornado?

When in March 2020, Berlin announced plans to acquire 45 Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler alongside 90 new Eurofighter Typhoon to replace, among others, the electronic warfare Tornado and those dedicated to NATO nuclear sharing missions, the German authorities knew that it was taking the risk, in particular, the next government will have to implement this acquisition program.

In fact, the Eurofighter Typhoon was not expected to receive the new gravitational nuclear bomb used by the NATO, particularly B-61 Mod 12.

Germany is expected to issue a letter of request (LOR) to the U.S. government in the coming weeks, as it seeks to procure the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and EA-18G Growler aircraft.

Vice president, Boeing Defense, Space & Security Germany, Michael Hostetter, told Janes that the LOR that would move the intended sale forward would likely be issued in January, shortly after the German government is seated in early December.

German politicians have a history of passing on major defense procurement from one defense minister to another defense minister and one political party to another political party.  

Between the United States government, the Bundeswehr, and Boeing, we are all now working together to drive the development of a letter of agreement, and I expect that to happen in the near term after the government is seated.”

With Kramp-Karrenbauer announcing the selection of the Super Hornet and Growler to partially satisfy its Panavia Tornado replacement requirement along with the Eurofighter, the German government formally approved the acquisition in April 2020. This approval was followed shortly after by a visit from the defence minister to Boeing’s production facility in St Louis, Missouri, strengthening the impression that Germany was looking to proceed with the procurement.

Germany will order 45 fighter aircraft from Boeing to replace the Luftwaffe’s ageing Tornado jets, Der Spiegel magazine reported on Sunday.

Former Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer emailed her U.S. counterpart Mark Esper on Thursday to inform him of the decision, the magazine said, without identifying the source of its information. The report added that Germany would order 30 F/A-18 Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers.

“While we continue to await an official announcement, we remain committed to working in support of both the German and U.S. governments on this important procurement,” a spokesman for Chicago-based Boeing wrote in an email. A combination of Hornets and Growlers “is ideally suited to meet Germany’s strike fighter and electronic warfare aircraft requirements.”

In order to respect German commitments made to France not to acquire an F-35A for the nuclear mission, the German authorities had to make a bet then that with this potential order, Washington would be forced to integrate the Super Hornet in the certification program of the B-61-12 in the order not to lose its most precious ally, Germany in this mission in Europe.

The Dassault Rafale with the impressive ASMP-A nuclear cruise missile makes an excellent choice for Germany. France is not part of the NATO nuclear sharing agreement, nor it will allow certifying Dassault Rafale for B61 bombs. The majority of Germans aren’t too keen on nuclear weapons to begin with. While it would solve the potential military need to put nukes on a target, it does not address strategic partnership between the U.S. and its European NATO allies. So Dassault Rafale was out of interest from the beginning.

The U.S. State Department sets out the list of aircraft that will be able to carry modernized American nuclear bombs, including F-15, F-16C, Super Hornet, the B-2 Spirit, B-21 Raider and the F-35 as well as interestingly Panavia Tornado. Super Hornet can carry two B61 series of nuclear weapons with a PAL category D or F. PAL being Permissive Action Link, an electronic lock to arm the weapons.

PAL switch on B-2
PAL Switch on F-16

The 75 kilonewtons nuclear bombs is a fierce commitment for Germany, and Panavia Tornado is at significant risk of not delivering B61 bombs. Germany never considered F-16 fighter jets, and the U.S. never offered Germany the F-15EX fighters. German politicians joined the Franco-German FCAS program leaving Lockheed’s F-35A off the list. Eurofighter consortium will take five years to certify Eurofighter Typhoon for nuclear missions, leaving Germany with one option to replace Panavia Tornado, Boeing Super Hornet Block III.

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