By Sabine Siebold, Andrea Shalal and Mike Stone
BERLIN/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Germany is leaning toward purchasing the U.S. fighter jet F-35 built by Lockheed Martin to replace its ageing Tornado in the role of nuclear sharing, a German defence source told Reuters on Thursday, but a final decision has not been taken.
Another source, close to the German military, said a possible F-35 purchase was “back on the table”, but no decisions were expected anytime soon.
“There have been recent efforts to inform Germany of how to move ahead with a potential F-35 purchase,” a third source involved in the effort told Reuters.
A government spokesperson in Berlin was not immediately available for comment.
“As a matter of policy, we will not publicly confirm or comment on proposed defense transfers or sales until they have been formally notified to Congress. We refer you to the German government to speak to its future defense procurement plans,” a spokesperson for the State Department in Washington said.
Germany needs to replace its ageing Tornado jets swiftly to remain part of NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement, something the new government under Chancellor Olaf Scholz has pledged to do.
The Tornado is the only German jet capable of carrying U.S. nuclear bombs, stored in Germany, in case of a conflict. But the air force has been flying the jet since the 1980s, and Berlin is planning to phase it out between 2025 and 2030.
Germany’s new coalition said it will purchase a replacement early in its four-year term in office. Without this move, Berlin would drop out of nuclear sharing when the last Tornado retires around 2030.
The German defence source said Scholz was expected to raise the issue during a trip to Washington next week.
Should Germany decide to buy the F-35, it would be a blow for Boeing, whose F-18 was favoured by former German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace the Tornado.
A decision to go with a U.S. fighter jet could upset France. Paris has been warily watching past German deliberations over whether to settle on the F-18 or the F-35, concerned it could undermine the development of a joint Franco-German fighter jet that is supposed to be ready in the 2040s.
It was not clear how many F-35 jets Germany may attempt to purchase.
Kramp-Karrenbauer had planned to buy 45 F-18s, but these were meant to replace both Tornado jets tasked with nuclear sharing as well as those for electronic warfare.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andrea Shalal, Mike Stone, Andreas Rinke; Editing by John Chalmers and David Gregorio)