The German government will purchase several dozen F-35 fighter jets from the United States amid the Russia–Ukraine conflict, said a government minister this week.
“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,” Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in a statement. She was referring to Germany’s aging fleet of Panavia Tornado planes, which Germany has employed since the 1980s and are reportedly due to be phased out in the coming years.
Officials said those F-35 jets, which are considered among the most advanced aircraft in the world due to their electronic warfare and stealth capabilities, would be upgraded to carry nuclear weapons. Currently, Germany’s Tornado jets are capable of doing so.
Announcing the decision to reporters on Tuesday, Lambrecht added that Germany also will upgrade its Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets for electronic warfare.
Germany’s air force commander, Ingo Gerhartz, said the current war in Ukraine made it necessary to choose Lockheed Martin’s F-35s. Previously, the government had considered replacing the Luftwaffe’s Tornados with a mix of different U.S. and European-made aircraft.
“There is only one response [Russian] aggression: unity within NATO and a credible deterrent,” Gerhartz also remarked. “That’s why there is no alternative to the decision in favor of the F-35.”
Unconfirmed reports citing anonymous sources said that some 35 F-35 planes will be bought from the United States.
The decision comes weeks after Germany, a longtime member of NATO, made a significant adjustment in its defense strategy after Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz last month said that Germany would boost its defense spending above 2 percent of its gross domestic product, something that former President Donald Trump had demanded while he was in office.
In Europe, Finland, Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, Denmark, Italy, Norway, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands operate one or more F-35 variants or are awaiting delivery of the planes. Israel, South Korea, Japan, and Australia have also purchased the jets.
The opposition Left Party criticized the decision to purchase the F-35s for Germany’s military.
“We reject arming the Bundeswehr with new, nuclear-capable combat jets,” said Ali Al-Dailami, the party’s deputy defense spokesman. He warned that equipping German pilots to drop U.S. atomic bombs could “fuel the risk of nuclear war in Europe.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.