COLOGNE, Germany – German defense officials have finally admitted their vision to buy several dozen F-18 warplanes that were upgraded, citing transatlantic relations as one of the reasons for the election.
The 45 aircraft made by Boeing will replace part of the Tornado aircraft in the country, take on the sensitive role of sending US atomic weapons under the so-called NATO nuclear sharing doctrine and purge enemy air defenses to follow the next wave of air forces.
In addition, proposals sent to lawmakers on Tuesday afternoon require the purchase of up to 93 Eurofight aircraft made by Airbus, which will carry out most of the kinetic missions that fighter aircraft tend to carry out.
The defense ministry described the decision as a compromise. On one hand, officials argued, the aim was to prop up a European defense industry which was busy laying the foundation for the Franco-German Future Combat Air System. On the other hand, the F-18 in the Super Hornet and Growler variants will help prevent gaps in the contribution of important capabilities that Germany has to NATO, they wrote.
“This decision strengthens the transatlantic partnership, and it sustains our credibility within NATO,” the statement said to member states.
Even so, the decision remained controversial. Supporters of the domestic industry argue that Eurofighter can take on the role of electronic warfare, where the government’s proposal envisions 15 Borer, by dispatching Airbus’s own disruption package. In addition, according to that argument, Germany can support the British program, other Eurofighter countries, to equip the aircraft with the necessary kits.
As for the nuclear sharing mission, the F-18 decision signifies that German defense leaders want to play it safe, at least as long as Berlin remains committed to the pact in the first place. While the latest F-18 variant hasn’t been certified to carry American B-61 gravity bombs stored here, ordering a fleet of 30-strong turnkey apocalypse bombers from the Pentagon promises to be far more stress-free than trying to get Eurofighters ready for the job.
The nuclear mission, however symbolic, gave Germany a kind of atomic gravity in NATO that had been enforced by the previous government even when public opinion was not supportive.
Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Wednesday was careful to frame separate purchases as mere proposals. The Tornado fleet will be able to survive until 2030, which means an acquisition program must be in 2025, with parliamentary approval planned for 2022 and 2023, he said.
“We have not yet chosen the source,” he told reporters after emerging from a closed meeting of the Bundestag defense committee.