Germany will buy 35 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 fighter jets to replace its aging Tornado jet fleet, which are the warplanes Berlin can use to deliver US nuclear warheads that are stored in the country.
Germany stores about 20 US B-61 nuclear gravity bombs as part of a NATO nuclear sharing agreement. “After looking thoroughly into all available options, I decided to initiate the purchase of F-35 aircraft as replacement for the Tornado in the role of nuclear sharing,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Monday.
Germany has been planning to phase out the Tornado fighters between 2025 and 2030, which are the only warplanes Berlin currently has that are capable of carrying the US nukes. The F-35s are expected to take over the nuclear sharing mission by 2030.
NATO was concerned that Germany’s new coalition government might not want to keep hosting the US nukes based on previous statements from party leaders. The concern prompted NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to warn that NATO would move its nuclear warheads further east if they were no longer in Germany, and the new government eventually agreed to keep housing the weapons.
The decision to buy the F-35s is the first planned arms deal announced by Germany’s government since Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged a 100-billion-euro upgrade to the military in response to Russia’s attack on Ukraine.