Germany eyes F-35 for Tornado replacement as Airbus unveils New Fighter concept

Germany needs an off-the-shelf, fifth generation aircraft to replace its fleet of Tornado fighter-bombers by 2025, the chief of staff of the air force said on Wednesday, November 8.

Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Karl Muellner told Reuters that the time-frame does not leave enough time to develop a unique solution to facilitate a smooth transition from the Tornado, which will leave service around 2030.

Muellner said the replacement for Germany’s 85 Tornado multi-role aircraft must be “low-observable, and able to identify and strike targets from a great distance.”

“It will have to be a fifth-generation jet to meet the full spectrum of our needs,” Muellner said.

Muellner’s statement appears to indicate a preference for the F-35.

Last month, the Luftwaffe issued a formal request for information about the F-35, the F-15 and F/A-18E/F, and the European Eurofighter Typhoon.

F-35 is Germany’s ‘preferred choice’

Separately, an unnamed senior official told Jane’s under Chatham House rules that the F-35 Lightning II is the Luftwaffe’s “preferred choice,” because it already has most of the capabilities the Tornado replacement requires, and is available in the 2025 to 2030 five-year transition phase timeframe.

“The Tornado replacement needs to be fifth-generation aircraft that can be detected as late as possible, if at all. It must be able to identify targets from a long way off and to target them as soon as possible,” the official said.

German Luftwaffe Tornado GR4
German Luftwaffe Tornado GR4, May 27, 2013. Image: bomberpilot/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Speaking about the Airbus Future Combat Air System programme which had been looked at by Germany as a means to replace the Tornado, the official said “it is very unlikely that industry could develop and introduce an entirely new aircraft type that fulfils the functionalities that we require.”

“History show that the Eurofighter took 25 years before the first aircraft was introduced,” they added.

A military jet purchase needs to be approved by the German parliament and a contract signed by 2021 to ensure deliveries by 2025. A purchase of around 100 F-35s would help German defense contractors secure some of the work on the program.

German allies in Europe are procuring the F-35 including Norway, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, and Denmark, as well as Turkey, and initial deliveries have begun. Belgium is expected to make a selection in 2018.

Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft
Royal Air Force Tornado GR4 aircraft behind a US Air Force KC-135R/T Stratotanker for refueling during Operation Iraqi Freedom, May 15, 2006.

The German air force has also committed to NATO to provide 14 electronic warfare aircraft by the middle of the next decade, Muellner said.

Potential aircraft for that role could be the Boeing EA-18 Growler, a modified Eurofighter or a modified transport plane such as the Airbus A400M.

Future Combat Air System

Muellner told Reuters he strongly supported a joint France-Germany plan to develop a successor for the Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft, adding that the project would keep critical technology in Europe and allow Europe to develop its own stealth technology.

Update November 9

Airbus Defence and Space revealed a New Fighter concept that could replace the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale in the 2040-timeframe.

At the IQPC International Fighter conference in Berlin on November 8, head of strategy Antoine Noguier said the New Fighter would be one part of its Future Combat Air System, Jane’s reported.

“Germany and France have taken the decision to develop a new combat aircraft to maintain sovereign and European capabilities,” Noguier said. “We see the Future Combat Air System as being a family of systems composed of manned and unmanned platforms that need to operate in a collective and collaborative way. We see a great future with the current [Eurofighter] platform, and we are developing the New Fighter also as a key element of this Future Combat Air System.”

The FCAS began as a project for the German Bundeswehr, a potential successor to the Luftwaffe’s Tornados, and was first revealed in 2016. However, the replacement timelines dictated that FCAS and the New Fighter shifted to become a potential replacement for the Eurofighter Typhoon, which will retire from German service around 2045. The New Fighter is also envisaged as a Rafale replacement for the French Air Force.

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