The German Air Force this month sent the US military a written request for classified data on the Lockheed Martin Corp F-35 fighter jet as it gears up to replace its current fleet of fighter jets from 2025 to 2035.
The letter, sent by the Air Force’s planning command, makes clear that the German government has not yet authorised a procurement programme and is not committed to any particular aircraft to replace its current warplanes.
It said the defence ministry would carry out “an in-depth evaluation of market available solutions, including the F-35, later this year,” with a formal “letter of request” to be issued in coming months.
Germany’s interest in the F-35 – the Pentagon’s most advanced warplane and its costliest procurement programme — may surprise some given that it is part of the four-nation consortium that developed the fourth-generation Eurofighter Typhoon, which continues to compete for new orders.
The Eurofighter is built by Airbus as well as Britain’s BAE Systems and Leonardo of Italy.
Germany will need to replace its current fleet of fourth-generation warplanes – Tornadoes in use since 1981 and Eurofighters – between 2025 and 2035. The F-35 is considered a fifth-generation fighter given stealth capabilities that allow it to evade enemy radars.
Berlin’s letter also comes amid growing tensions between the West and Russia over Moscow’s support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, with Nato officials saying that Russian naval activity now exceeds levels seen even during the Cold War.
Britain, the Netherlands, Norway, Turkey and Italy — key Nato allies of Germany — are already buying the F-35 fighter jet to replace their current aircraft, and other European countries such as Switzerland, Belgium and Finland are also looking at purchasing the fifth-generation warplane.
Germany’s gesture may be aimed at strengthening its hand in negotiations with its European partners over the scale and timing of development of a next generation of European fighters. Any moves to buy a U.S. built warplane could run into political resistance in Germany, which has strong labour unions.
But military sources say buying the F-35 could make sense for Germany given steady declines in the cost of the US jets, and technical challenges with the Eurofighter.