Germany will add F-35 Joint Strike Fighters to its growing arsenal as the nation pivots to improve its military capabilities in the face of Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
On Monday, Reuters reported that Lockheed Martin and unnamed German officials had confirmed intentions to order as many as 35 advanced stealth fighters, with the formal announcement expected to come sometime this week. This procurement would give Germany a 5th-generation fleet that’s at least twice the size of Russia’s.
Germany has historically dragged its feet regarding defense spending, failing to meet its financial obligations to the NATO alliance and often facing negative publicity for its dated and ineffectual military apparatus. However, Russia’s brazen invasion of Ukraine and Vladimir Putin’s aggressive foreign policy have now prompted Germany to re-evaluate its investment in defense. Now, Germany intends to increase defense spending to meet 2% of the nation’s gross domestic product (NATO’s requirement). A $113 billion fund within that budget will be allocated specifically to armament projects.
Germany will operate its newly procured F-35 fleet as a replacement for its aging fleets of Tornado IDS (Interdiction and Strike) and ECR (Electronic Reconnaissance) aircraft.
Related: Russia doesn’t seem sure the Su-75 Checkmate will be stealth
The Tornado family of fighters are variable-sweep wing multi-role combat aircraft first introduced in 1979. These two-seat, twin-engine fighters are capable of achieving speeds as high as Mach 2.2, with hardpoints for seven total weapons and an onboard 27mm cannon. It is also the only German aircraft rated to carry American nuclear weapons. Technically speaking, the F-35 is slower and can carry less ordnance, but what it lacks in brute force, the Joint Strike Fighter makes up for in stealth, sensor fusion, and computing power.
The F-35’s stealth tends to draw the majority of coverage, but it may be its sensor fusion capabilities that are the fighter’s real claim to fame. F-35s can take in information from a wide variety of sensors and sources on the ground, at sea, in space, and in the air. Powerful onboard computers then process all of that disparate information and fuse it into a single interactive data stream presented directly in the pilot’s field of view—but importantly, it can also relay this organized fusion of data to other assets in the area, increasing the situational awareness of all nearly friendly aircraft.
Related: F-35 pilot responds to claims that the jet is a failure
Once Germany takes delivery on their new F-35s, they will join 14 other nations in operating the American-built stealth fighter, including at least seven European nations, many of whom are now shifting their defense posture in the face of Russia’s naked aggression in Ukraine.
While Russia does operate its own 5th-generation fighter, the Sukhoi Su-57 Felon, the F-35 stands out as the clear superior. The Su-57, despite its 5th-generation designation, boasts a radar cross-section of approximately .5 square meters, about the same as America’s non-stealth F/A-18 Super Hornet. The F-35’s radar cross-section, on the other hand, is said to be closer to .005 square meters, or about the size of a golf ball. And while the purchase of 35 fighters may not seem like the making of a massive fleet, this procurement will give Germany at least twice as many stealth aircraft as Russia operates in total.
Related: Is Russia’s Su-57 the worst stealth fighter on the planet?
In fact, to date, Russia’s Su-57 fleet consists of just two serial production aircraft and 12 hand-built prototypes the nation has opted to declare “operational” for the sake of publicity-grabbing but largely ineffectual deployments to nations like Syria. Production continues, but with a new slew of sanctions now crippling Russia’s economy, how soon any new Su-57s will join Russia’s fleet remains to be seen. To date, there are no publicly acknowledged plans to put Russia’s newest stealth fighter, known as the Su-75 Checkmate, into production.
The decision to purchase American F-35s might, however, put Germany in hot water with France. Germany has signaled an interest in purchasing F/A-18 Super Hornets to replace its Tornadoes in the past, seemingly to allocate budget toward the joint development of a new Franco-German fighter. Choosing instead to operate F-35s may indicate Germany’s waning interest in helping to foot the bill for this new jet, though thus far, there’s been no official word either way.
Chris Kohler says
Part 2 of my comment:
Also, frankly, comparing the radar cross section of the F-35 and the Su-57 casts doubt on your expertise and understanding of what modern air combat looks like.
Those are arguments mostly clueless armchair generals made in internet forums 20+ years ago, when the F-22 was still new.
Just flying around at high altitude and relying on your aircraft’s stealthiness in the X-band radar spectrum is not Russian air force doctrine. They know that their radar systems are inferior, but they have quite capable networking hardware (allowing all their fighters to share data on targets) and passive IR targeting technology and their doctrine is tailored accordingly.
What they do is that they fly low and use the superior maneuverability of their aircraft to use terrain to hide in, to then pop up, shoot at their high flying enemies and duck back down into terrain cover again.
The thing with stealth technology is that when using the terrain, pretty much every aircraft can be invisible to radar.
Just go and take a look at what is happening on the multiplayer servers of the “DCS” combat flight simulator. It of course isn’t perfect, but it is pretty accurate and you’ll find players playing that game doing exactly what I described as Russian air force doctrine.
Players in American jets like the F-15 and F-16 fly high to use their superior radar systems and play to the advantages of their simulated aircraft, wile players in Migs and Suchois buzz around between the hills and mountains, doing sneaky hit and run attacks on the high flying Americans.
Those players fall into those tactics and roles naturally, because that is actually what those aircraft were designed to do and what works best for them.
You really should consider such things before writing about how this aircraft is superior, or that one, because they mathematically have a smaller radar signature.
Besides, the Su-57 is equipped with a L-band radar on top of the usual X-band radar, specifically for detecting stealth aircraft.
How well all that stuff works in practice and how well trained the pilots are, is another question, of course, but things are not as simple and straight forward as such superficial comparisons like the one in this article make it sound.
There still is more to air combat than just who is stealthy and who has the longest ranging missiles.
Especially BVR combat is a highly dubious, mostly untested thing and no air to air missile is a perfect fire and forget weapon.
All the AIM-120 AMRAAM fired in anger so far, have achieved a hit ratio of something like 13% when used BVR and some of those hits were friendly fire accidents where US F-15 accidentally shot down US helicopters.
You need to keep that in mind when you read news articles about F-22 wiping the floor with their training partners at the Red Flag event and the such. In those simulated fights, they just assume a 100% hit probability for air to air missiles. Who shoots first, wins, in simulated air combat. Real air combat is very different though.
Statistically the 6 AMRAAM a F-22 carries are not enough to score a single hit reliably at BVR, according to real life hit statistics.
The more you research that topic, the more clear it becomes that air combat really hasn’t changed all that much since WW2, meaning, to halfway reliably achieve a air kill, you still have to catch your target at a low energy state and that means using classical air combat maneuvers to force your enemy into such a state, which means close combat at visible range, where stealth is pretty much irrelevant.
A fighter with a halfway decent missile warning system, at a high energy state, will almost always be more maneuverable than a air to air missile with its stubby little wings and rapidly running out of fuel rocket engine.
The Eurofighter Typhoon is specifically designed to exploit that. It is designed to stay within that speed envelope where a jet has a advantage over a missile as long as possible, with its delta wing design and the Super Cruise ability.
I’m not a fanboy and I am not a F-22 or F-35 hater, but with everything I learned about air combat, I really and honestly think that is actually the better approach, compared to the dubious and untested theoretical advantages of X-band stealth.
I truly do believe that out of all the currently existing modern fighter jets, the Typhoon’s design is based on the most sound and realistic application of air combat principles and that it is wise of the German ministry of defense to limit the F-35 to the specific attacker role and rely on the Typhoon as their main air to air platform.
Chris Kohler says
It should be mentioned that the main reason for considering either the F-18 or the F-35 was to retain the ability to drop nuclear weapons within the NATO nuclear sharing program.
The F-35 will really only be used as a replacement for the Tornado and thus a attacker, with the Eurofighter remaining the main interceptor, air superiority and multi role fighter platform.
So the “German F-35 vs Russian Su-57” thing you write about here isn’t really a consideration, because both will be used in different roles.
Even considering the necessity to be able of dropping nukes, I still find it a dubious choice to go with the F-35. after the large scale war simulation the US Air Force and Navy were running in February of 2021 and one US Air Force general saying in a interview that they no longer consider the F-35 combat effective, that the model either needs extensive upgrades or replacement and that the current iteration will no longer be included in war plans and will only be used for pilot training in the future.
That must have been great to hear for all those foreign customers who bought the thing and have no intention and no budged for extensive upgrades or replacements anytime soon.
The F-35 is a impressive feat of engineering, but that doesn’t make it a effective multi role fighter.
It should have remained a X-plane and a technology testbed and demonstrator, instead of being pushed into mass production.
That’s why country after country continue to select it. That the PLAAF designed their own plane after it and that current pilots swear by it. I am going out on the limb here, but I am guessing that either the USN,USMC or USAF has a guy or maybe even smarter than you on their staff. I will be a gentleman here….. put the keyboard down and walk away.