Cologne. Even as countries around the world battle the pandemic COVID-19 with Germany having an excellent health care system and low mortality rate due to this deadly disease, it has kicked up a row with reports that its Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer effectively promised her US counterpart that the ministry will buy 45 F-18 jets from Boeing.
The row apparently sparked off following a report in the German media that Berlin planned to acquire a mix of Airbus Eurofighter jets and Boeing F-18s for a smattering of air warfare jobs too demanding for the country’s aging Tornado fleet.
Those jobs include flying conventional fighter-bomber missions, jamming enemy air defences and carrying US nuclear-tipped gravity bombs to hypothetical World War III targets somewhere eastward, per NATO’s so-called nuclear sharing deal.
The report said Kramp-Karrenbauer sent US Defence Secretary Mark Esper an email last week detailing her ministry’s wish to buy F-18s not only for the atomic mission — which comes as little surprise — but also for the electronic warfare role.
That reported promise stung Eurofighter advocates — even those who might begrudgingly accept an American product for the nuclear mission — because Airbus has plans for a souped-up jamming plane that it wants to see in Germany’s inventory.
The German Defence Ministry has always signaled it will take into account industrial policy considerations in the Tornado-replacement question. So strongly did senior leaders believe in the idea of keeping the European industrial base humming toward an eventual Franco-German aerial über-weapon that they nixed Lockheed Martin’s F-35 from the competition.
But keeping American aircraft entirely out of the loop has always seemed a nonstarter.
A ministry spokesman said Kramp-Karrenbauer’s missive to Esper was only meant to test the waters regarding America’s ability to start delivering those planes when the actual acquisition programme gets underway in a few years.
A formal decision on replacing the Tornados had initially been expected by the end of March. But as the Coronavirus crisis unfolded, that decision was pushed to after Easter.
Kramp-Karrenbauer is expected to announce her plans before the parliamentary Defence Committee where she is likely to face opposition from lawmakers of the SPD coalition partner.
Until then, Germans have yet another puzzle to discuss, as an increasingly divisive debate unfolds here over reopening the country.