Germany outlines Typhoon, F-18, EA-18G procurement plan

The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) has outlined its plan to procure a mix of Eurofighter Typhoons, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and EA-18G Growlers to replace its ageing Panavia Tornado IDS/ECR fleet.

In this plan, Germany will acquire 93 new-build  Typhoons which will partly replace the Luftwaffe’s (German Air Force’s) Tornado IDS/ECR fleet and the nation’s Tranche 1 Eurofighter aircraft with a newer, updated variant of the delta-winged fighter. Along with the additional Typhoons, the Bundeswehr seeks to import 30 F/A-18E/Fs and 15 EA-18Gs from the US.

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A German Eurofighter EF-2000S Typhoon and Panavia Tornado in flight. Airbus

Plans to acquire Super Hornets and Growlers has sparked controversy and criticism in Germany, with the country’s Social Democratic Party (SDP) remaining opposed to the procurement of the US aircraft.

German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung that the acquisition is necessary for “bridging technology” and that “currently only US manufacturers are offering” platforms that have the capability to be adapted to carry B61-12 freefall nuclear gravity bombs. In current operations, the Tornado is the only Luftwaffe aircraft that is certified to carry the munition and purchasing F/A-18E/Fs would enable Germany to continue to carry out its NATO nuclear-sharing duties.

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F/A-18E Super Hornets from Strike Fighter Squadron 136 (VFA-136) Knighthawks fly in formation during a photo trip over California in March 2019. US Navy/CMCS Shannon Renfroe

Procurement of the EA-18G Growler electronic warfare (EW) platform will enable the air arm to replace its Tornado ECR in an electronic combat and suppression/destruction of enemy air defence (SEAD/DEAD) role. In November last year, Airbus unveiled its Eurofighter ECR concept – which was directly targeted at replacing Germany’s EW Tornado fleet. The country’s plans to acquire the EA-18G over the Typhoon solution will not be looked upon favourably by Airbus, but the former type is a lower-risker platform. The Growler is combat proven and in full-rate production, whereas the Typhoon ECR would require further development and testing before it can enter operational service – something which has a risk of higher costs and potential delays.

Kramp-Karrenbauer stressed that the Eurofighter would continue to be the “backbone of the Luftwaffe”. The new model will likely be the Tranche 3A examples will replace a portion of the Tornado fleet and the now-obsolescent Tranche 1 Typhoons. The new-build platforms would be equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, conformal fuel tanks and could be equipped with additional stores, such as SPEAR 3, Marte-ER and the Litening IV/V targeting pod. The variant also features defensive system, cabling, and computer upgrades compared with the Tranche 1.

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A pair of US Navy EA-18G Growlers form up behind a US Air Force (USAF) tanker aircraft over Afghanistan in January 2020. USAF/SSgt Matthew Lotz

Despite the Bundeswehr having outlined its planned acquisition, it still has to be ratified by the German government before any formal procurement process can begin.