Germany hopes to develop a new strike aircraft to replace its aging Panavia Tornado bombers. Berlin expects to hold preliminary discussions with its European partners about the nascent project in 2016, according to a report from Reuters.
According to a draft German defense ministry document obtained by the newswire, it is not clear if the new warplane would be manned, unmanned or optionally manned. However, according to the Reuters report, an optionally manned aircraft is a distinct possibility. But what is clear is that Berlin views the project as a collaborative European effort similar to the Eurofighter Typhoon or the Tornado before it.
There are few details available about the prospective new aircraft, but if it is intended to replace the Tornado, the jet is likely to be designed as a dedicated strike aircraft. If the Luftwaffe follows the American lead, the new jet is likely to be a stealthy design. Nor would it be the first German stealth aircraft design— Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm (present day Airbus Group) designed the Lampyridae in 1980s independent of the United States to at least the radar cross section model stage.
It is also likely the that the new German aircraft would be optimized to defeat a wider range of frequencies than current stealth aircraft like the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor or F-35—given that it would enter service in the 2030s. The threat environment in the 2030s is likely to feature an array of networked low frequency radars operating in the UHF and VHF-bands that could detect and track current stealth aircraft. Indeed, such systems are already starting to proliferate today.
As such, it is possible that a future Luftwaffe strike aircraft could feature a flying wing configuration—which is easier to optimize against those threats. It might share characteristics with the U.S. Navy’s X-47B prototype or the French-led, which involves Greek, Italian, Spanish, Swedish and Dassault nEUROn Swiss industrial participation. But it is also likely that the German project is substantially different from the nEUROn in many regards. Otherwise, the project would be unnecessarily duplicative.
Nonetheless, Germany is not looking to develop a new bomber on its own. While Berlin has the largest economy and the best overall industrial base in Europe, Germany’s once-mighty aerospace sector was all but dismantled after World War II. While Berlin still has a strong civil aerospace industry with manufacturers like MTU and parts of the Airbus Group, Germany has not built a completely indigenous jet fighter or bomber since the days of the Messerschmitt Me-262 and Arado Ar 234. It would take time to rebuild that industrial base.
Meanwhile, the Reuters report noted that the Luftwaffe is also considering extending the Tornado’s service life into the mid-2030s. Previously, the venerable twin-engine variable geometry wing bomber had been slated to be retired in the mid-2020s.
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.
Image: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Navy/Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg.