Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister Andrij Melnyk has made a direct plea to Germany to donate its entire ageing fleet of Panavia Tornado IDS/ECR ground attack/strike jets to help in the war with Russia.
Melnyk made the appeal to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Twitter. He said that the decision to replace the Luftwaffe's (German Air Force's) 93-strong Tornado fleet with the Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II meant that Germany would soon withdraw the type from operational service.
In a tweet, Melnyk said: “I have a creative proposal to our German friends. The Bundeswehr (German Armed Forces) has 93 Tornado multi-role combat aircraft that will be decommissioned soon and replaced by F-35. Though it’s an old jet fighter, but still very powerful. Why not to deliver these Tornados to Ukraine, Olaf Scholz.”
Following Russia's unprovoked invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the Bundeswehr announced that it will procure a total of 35 examples of the fifth-generation multi-role stealth fighter to replace the Tornado IDS aircraft in operational service. This plan was initially announced on March 14, 2022, and comes as part of Germany's newly injected €100bn defence budget to modernise and overhaul its armed forces, which was announced by Chancellor Scholz just weeks after the Russian invasion of Ukraine began.
On December 14, last year, the German government approved the close to €10bn F-35A purchase, with deliveries expected to take place between 2026 and 2029. In operational Luftwaffe service, the F-35A will succeed the Tornado IDS in all of its current roles, ranging from ground attack/interdiction and strike operations to maintaining Germany's nuclear deterrent as part of NATO's Nuclear Sharing Arrangements.
The F-35As will be operated by Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader 33 (TaktLwG 33; Tactical Air Force Wing 33) at Büchel Air Base. While the Luftwaffe's matured Tornado IDS fleet is due to be withdrawn from use when the F-35A enters operational service, the country is not actively planning to retire the platform before its successor is delivered. In doing so, Germany would risk a relatively long-term capability gap in its ability to project combat airpower in the battlespace, specifically in the air-to-ground and strike roles. It would also negate the Luftwaffe's ability to contribute to NATO's Nuclear Sharing Arrangement, as the Panavia IDS is the only aircraft capable of delivering nuclear weapons in the air arm's inventory.
The F-35A is only replacing the Tornado IDS in German service, with the ECR-standard variant set to continue its electronic warfare mission for a few more years following the former's retirement.
Despite the pleas from Ukraine to transfer its Tornado fleet to the Ukrainian Air Force, it remains highly unlikely that Germany will agree to do so. At present, Germany is in a stand-off with other nations as it comes under pressure to donate (or at least permit other operators to donate) Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine to support its war effort against invading Russian forces. Chancellor Scholz has maintained that Germany would only allow these tanks to be donated if the US agrees to supply Ukraine with its M1 Abrams main battle tanks.