Germany wants to upgrade its air force with the world’s most modern fighter jet, the F-35.

Such a contract costs several billion dollars. But the question is, is the F-35 suitable for Germany? F-35 Lightning II is considered the most modern fighter in the world. The fifth-generation aircraft built by Lockheed Martin is more than just a fighter jet. In essence, it is an armed supercomputer, with jet engines, that can link up with other aircraft as well as ground forces, processing thousands of pieces of information every second.

German Defense Minister, Christine Lambrecht said, Germany wants to buy 35 F-35s to replace the Tornado fighters that entered service more than 40 years ago. Like the F-35, the Tornado can carry an atomic bomb.

“There are military reasons in favor of the F-35,” said Rafael Loss, a security expert at the think tank European Council on Foreign Relations. “If you have to deliver the nuclear bomb, you better do it with a stealth aircraft than with an aircraft that doesn’t have that capability”. “We need that lower radar signature and the ability to detect and engage targets at long range. And the F-35 can do that better than any other air combat system on the market right now.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Kristin Wolfe performs a demonstration in the F-35A Lightning II during at the Reno Air Races in Reno, Nevada, September 19, 2021. The F-35 Lightning II Demonstration Team is based out of Hill Air Force Base, Utah. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Nicolas Myers)

But those capabilities come at a cost. Loss expects the 35 fighter jets to cost about €4 billion, about $4.4 billion. “On top of that, of course, there would be the operating costs, which are substantial,” he says. Moreover, several hundred million euros would probably have to be budgeted for the necessary conversion of German military airports.

Without Russia’s war against Ukraine, such an investment would hardly have been conceivable. But now the German government wants to upgrade the Bundeswehr with a special fund of €100 billion. And political resistance to a new nuclear bomber is also low. Even the Greens have offered little criticism. Though once founded by pacifists, they are now in Germany’s governing coalition.

The UK, Italy, the Netherlands, and, most recently, Finland and Switzerland have opted for the F-35. For them, air defense cooperation with Germany could become easier. Experts say that with the F-35 Germany will be more aligned with a European arms policy.

In France, there are fears that the purchase of the F-35 could jeopardize the Franco-German-Spanish FCAS, short for Future Combat Air System. The billion-dollar project is meant to develop a state-of-the-art European fighter by 2040 to replace the French Rafale and the German Eurofighter. Another opinion is, Will Germany still need FCAS at all? Or are the F-35s perhaps not a transitional solution, but a long-term solution?

Berlin has emphasized that it is acquiring the F-35s only as a replacement for the Tornados and not for other tasks. Alternatives discussed in recent years, such as the older American F-18 or the Eurofighter, would first have had to go through a lengthy procedure to be considered capable of carrying nuclear bombs.


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