German Air Force is reportedly buying Eurofighter Typhoons and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers to replace its aging fleet of Panavia Tornado swing-wing combat jets.
Germany will buy up to 90 Eurofighters, 30 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and 15 EA-18G Growlers jets.
A key driving factor behind the compromise proposal is the need for the German Air Force to have an aircraft that could deliver American nuclear gravity bombs under a NATO agreement. It has become increasingly clear that the process for getting the Super Hornets certified to carry these weapons is significantly less complex than doing the same for the Typhoon.
Germany plans to use the Super Hornet, made by U.S. aerospace company Boeing, to fill a NATO requirement to field fighter aircraft capable of dropping the B61 nuclear gravity bomb, according to German business publication Handelsblatt, which first reported the split buy. It will also buy Growlers to replace the Tornados that carry out an electronic attack role.
However, only the legacy F/A-18 Hornet — not the Super Hornet — was ever certified to carry the B61, wrote Justin Bronk, a research fellow with the Royal United Services Institute, a U.K. based thinktank that covers defense issues. That means that the Super Hornet will have to go through the certification process, said Bronk, who called the split buy “the worst of all previously mooted outcomes.”
Boeing spokesman Justin Gibbons said that while the Super Hornet is not yet certified to carry the B61, the company has the U.S. government’s support for future integration.
“The F/A-18 Super Hornet is capable of being certified to meet B61 requirements for Germany under its timeline. Boeing has a proven track record of successfully integrating weapons systems that meet the needs of both U.S. and international customers,” he said. Gibbons declined to comment on the timing of Germany’s deadline for competitive reasons.
Germany has agonized over replacing the Tornado for years, and both political and industrial factors have helped sway the government’s stance on its next tranche of fighters. In 2017, Lt. Gen. Karl Muellner, then the country’s air force chief, expressed a preference for Lockheed Martin’s F-35, but he was later fired reportedly for his outspoken support for the U.S. jet and Germany officially knocked the F-35 out of the competition last year.
This left the race down to either the Eurofighter Typhoon, which is made by a consortium led by Germany’s Airbus, Italy’s Leonardo and the U.K.’s BAE Systems, or Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. The Typhoon received strong political support, with Airbus making the case that another batch of Eurofighters for Germany could help the European defense industry bridge the gap between the Typhoon and the sixth-generation Future Combat Air System.
Historically, Germany has kept a portion of its Tornado fleet configured to use U.S. nuclear bombs as part of a NATO nuclear-sharing agreement. In the case of a major war with Russia, German pilots would be able to load their jets with nuclear weapons, take off and drop them on behalf of NATO.
In late 2019, reports indicated that the pendulum was swinging toward a German buy of Super Hornets based on information from the U.S. government stating it would take three to five years longer to certify the Eurofighter for nuclear missions.