BERLIN – Germany will replace some of its aging Tornado bomber jets with U.S.-made F-35A Lightning II aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons, the country's defense minister said Monday.
Announcing the decision, Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said Germany also will upgrade its Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets for electronic warfare — a capability that's also currently fulfilled by the Tornado jets. The Eurofighter will be replaced beginning in 2040 with the Future Combat Air System, or FCAS, that's being jointly developed with France and Spain, she said.
Germany's air force commander, Ingo Gerhartz, said the Russian war in Ukraine made it necessary to choose Lockheed Martin's F-35s. Previously, the government had considered replacing the Luftwaffe's Tornados with a mix of different U.S. and European-made aircraft.
“There can be only one answer to (Russian President Vladimir) Putin's aggression,” said Gerhartz. “Unity in NATO and a credible deterrent. This in particular means there is no alternative but to choose the F-35.”
The German military does not have nuclear weapons of its own, but as part of the system of nuclear deterrence developed during the Cold War it maintained bombers capable of carrying U.S. atomic bombs, some of which are stationed in Germany.
The opposition Left Party criticized the decision to purchase almost three dozen F-35s for Germany's military.
“We reject arming the Bundeswehr with new, nuclear-capable combat jets,” said Ali Al-Dailami, the party's deputy defense spokesman. He warned that equipping German pilots to drop U.S. atomic bombs could “fuel the risk of nuclear war in Europe.”
U.S. Ambassador Amy Gutmann welcomed the announcement, however, saying that by acquiring new nuclear-capable aircraft Germany was “cementing its continued participation in NATO’s nuclear-sharing mission.”
“Such a strong sign of Germany’s commitment to NATO’s deterrence could not come at a better time,” she said.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced last month that the country would create a special fund of 100 billion euros ($113 billion) to bolster its armed forces and raise defense spending above 2% of gross domestic product, a measure on which it had long lagged behind other NATO countries on.
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