What a difference a war makes. In response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, an unprecedented increase in German defense spending is underway and this was reflected at last week’s ILA Berlin airshow in briefings and ground displays. Some Luftwaffe (air force) procurements are being accelerated, and new programs are being defined.
For instance, the German defense ministry sent a letter of requirements (LOR) for the F-35 fighter to the Pentagon just three days after announcing an intention to purchase 35. “We are sprinting,” said J.R. McDonald, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for F-35 business development. He said that the Germans should receive their letter of offer and acceptance (LOA) this fall. First deliveries could be in 2025, but McDonald cautioned that training and infrastructure provisions would make 2026 a more realistic date. The LOR specifies the current standard Block 4/Technical Refresh 3 to avoid delays. Lockheed Martin is “exploring German industry participation,” he added.
The F-35 buy has seemingly nixed Eurofighter’s chances of building yet more jets as a Tornado replacement, but it already has secured an order for 38 to replace the Luftwaffe’s Tranche 1 fleet with Tranche 4 multirole versions with e-scan radar and other enhancements. Eurofighter is now pitching to replace the specialized Tornado ECR (electronic combat and reconnaissance) version. It proposes an initial 15 aircraft to Tranche 4 standard with external electronic warfare pods. Another 15 would follow with full electronic attack capability, and these could be to the significantly upgraded configuration that Eurofighter is studying as a Long Term Evolution (LTE) for the program. Meanwhile, a contract was signed at the show with Spain for 20 more jets. They will replace some of the Spanish Air Force’s aging F/A-18 fleet, and bring the total in service to 90.
Ironically, the Panavia stand pointedly featured a large slogan: “Tornado: the weapon system of 2030 and beyond.” A company official told AIN that the Luftwaffe aircraft were quite capable of continuing in service. However, the government has just canceled the Future Avionics System Tornado (FAST) program that would have replaced the main computer, modified the head-up and head-down displays, and replaced the MIL-Standard 1553 databus with Ethernet connectivity.
The Luftwaffe’s first and recently-delivered C-130J-30 was displayed in the static park. Two more will follow for the joint Franco-German squadron, followed by three KC-130J tankers. These airlifters were bought when it seemed that some of the A400M’s advertised capabilities would never be achieved. Although the A400M has now been cleared for helicopter refueling, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for air mobility, Tony Freese, pointedly remarked that the KC-130J’s ability to fly with a heavy load while refueling helicopters at speeds as low as 105 knots was unmatched.
Also on static display was a U.S. Army Boeing CH-47F Chinook, following the type’s recently-announced selection by Germany. There have been repeated delays in replacing the Luftwaffe’s fleet of venerable CH-53Gs. Almost opposite the CH-47 was a U.S. Marine Corps CH-53K King Stallion, which was the losing contender. Apparently, Lockheed Martin/Sikorsky did not learn of its defeat in time to cancel an expensive transatlantic deployment of the helicopter inside a C-17.
Boeing said that the German navy is now under contract for five P-8A Poseidons for delivery from 2024, although Germany has recently shown a desire to buy more. They will replace a P-3 fleet that has suffered from poor availability. Systems house ESG and MRO Lufthansa Technik will provide in-country support. For the time being, the aircraft will specialize in the anti-submarine mission, but an anti-ship mission will be added later, although with a more modern missile than Harpoon.
A full-scale mockup of the Eurodrone was in the static park, in the definitive configuration now that the Avio Aero Catalyst engine has been chosen. The development and production contract for 20 systems was signed last February. The mockup was displayed with potential weapons underwing, another sign of how times have changed in Germany. At the last ILA show, most of the offensive hardware on display was covered up during the German Chancellor’s tour of the exhibits.
However, there was little sign of the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), the other large pan-European military program. This has ground to a halt, following a row between Airbus and Dassault over design authorities for the fighter element of the FCAS. Work on the Phase 1A contract was supposed to last only 18 months. Liebherr was the only company to display a model of the fighter. Airbus Defence and Space CEO Mike Schoellhorn told AIN that there could be positive news on the project in a few weeks’ time.