A European Update: Germany to Acquire F-35s?


By Pierre Tran

Paris – Germany has yet to decide on whether to buy the F-35 fighter jet, but a decision will be made later this year, a senior German parliamentarian said Feb. 21.

“There’s no decision yet, but we will decide this year,” the parliamentarian told reporters, here. “There is a clear urgency.”

A replacement of the “obsolete” Tornado fighter jet flown by the German air force set the timing and need for a potential order for the F-35, which was certified to carry U.S.-built nuclear bombs, part of the Nato deterrence, the parliamentarian said.

An order for the F-35 could be made alongside purchase of Eurofighter jets for conventional operations, particularly electronic intelligence, the parliamentarian said.

Asked why an order for the Rafale was not possible, the parliamentarian said the French fighter lacked certification for U.S. nuclear bombs, ruling out that aircraft. It was interesting to note that when the Tornado was built in the 1970s, there was no problem for a European fighter to be certified to carry U.S. nuclear weapons, the parliamentarian added.

On French concerns on an order for the F-35 cutting the German budget for the Future Combat Air System, the parliamentarian said that would depend on the number of F-35s to be bought.

Airbus builds the German Eurofighter Typhoon, while Lockheed Martin is prime contractor for the F-35. Airbus signed Nov. 11 2020, a German contract for 38 Eurofighters under a project dubbed Quadriga.

Britain, Germany, and Italy ordered the swing-wing Tornado in the 1970s, and those partner nations – plus Spain – are backers for the Eurofighter Typhoon. France dropped out early in the Eurofighter project to pursue its Rafale program.

There was a more general problem with European defense projects, the parliamentarian said, pointing to differences in French and German timetables for maritime patrol aircraft.

There were some in Paris who criticised Berlin’s order for a fleet of P-8 Poseidon aircraft, seen as effectively ditching the project for a maritime airborne warfare system (MAWS), and pulling out of an MK3 upgrade to the Tiger attack helicopter.

The German coalition, led by the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), has said there would be a review of government policy, seen as opening the door to procurement of the F-35. The coalition partners are the  environmentalist Green party and pro-business Free Democrats.

That policy review by the government led by the Social Democrat chancellor, Olaf Scholz, marked a change in direction from a previous coalition led by the Christian Democrats, with the then chancellor Angela Merkel at the helm. The Social Democrats had been the junior partner, until the elections last September reversed that balance of political power.

The previous center-right administration had ruled out the Lockheed Martin F-35 and considered the Boeing F/A-18 or Eurofighter as replacement for the Tornado, due to be withdrawn around 2030.

The previous government’s opposition to the F-35 could be seen in the removal in 2018 of the German air chief of staff, who had expressed preference for the F-35.

In France, the prospect of a German order for the F-35 has sparked concern, as that was seen as cutting funds for the FCAS, which has a new generation fighter at the heart of the program. France, Germany and Spain back the FCAS, with Dassault as the prime contractor on the new fighter. The French family-controlled company is in dispute with the German Airbus unit over intellectual property rights and leadership of key program elements.

A Russian-Generated European Crisis

Putin formally said Feb. 21 Donetsk and Luhansk, the two disputed territories in the Donbas region, eastern Ukraine, were republics and independent from Kyiv, sparking sharp denunciations in the West and in the U.N.

Shortly after Putin’s recognizing those two Russian-controlled separatist areas across the border in Ukraine, Moscow sent in troops and armor in as “peacekeepers.”

“There is a Russian crisis, not Ukraine crisis,” the parliamentarian said the day before the effective annexation, with Russian president Vladimir Putin taking a “revisionist” approach.

That approach consists of Putin seeking to reshape the status quo in Eastern Europe, where nation states have aligned with Nato and their Western European allies, after having been held under direct control by the Soviet Union.

A key East European partner for France was Poland, the parliamentarian said, with a relaunch of the Weimar Triangle, which brings France, Germany and Poland into close cooperation.

The Baltic nations – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – are also key actors in the Russia crisis, taking a highly negative view of Moscow.

The threat from Putin extended beyond Ukraine, the parliamentarian said, raising a “real challenge for Europe,” such as cyber attacks. European governments were poorly prepared and there was a need for enhancing resilience.

Sanctions Against Russia

The U.K. has drawn up a list of sanctions against Russian companies with shares trading in the London financial center, the City, and Russian oligarchs with large property holdings.

London is reported to be a money-laundering capital, with wealthy Russians facing allegations of corruption or those close to the Kremlin holding £1.5 billion ($2 billion) in U.K. property, The Times, a British daily, reported Feb. 18, drawing on a report by Transparency International, a campaign group.

In the House of Commons, a senior member of parliament and former BBC journalist, Benjamin Bradshaw, asked defense minister Ben Wallace, why under the current prime minister not a single Unexplained Wealth Order had been issued, not a single Russian national holding a golden visa had been named, and “why does he think we have been so slow at tackling Russian dirty money in London.”

The UK passed in 2002 the Proceeds of Crime Act, which included unexplained wealth orders, which allowed the seizing of property without having to prove crimes had been committed, relying on civil standards of proof rather than criminal law.

Britain adopted in 2008 golden visas, which speeded up applications to be a UK resident for those who had £2 million. Some 2,500 such visas have been issued to Russians, out of a total of more than 12,000 golden visas, daily The Guardian reported Feb 20.

The British parliament’s joint intelligence and security committee said in 2020 that the golden visa scheme “was welcoming oligarchs with open arms,” and remained open after the alleged poisoning by two Russian GRU agents in 2018 of Sergei Skripal, a former Russian  intelligence officer, and his daughter Yulia, in Salisbury, southern England.

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