Germany’s Federal Ministry for Defence wants the country to buy American for the future of the country’s nuclear-sharing mission with the U.S., urging the legislature to approve the purchase of 30 Boeing [BA] F/A-18 aircraft to carry future B61-12 nuclear gravity bombs.
The German publication Der Spiegel first reported the news Sunday, writing that Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer informed Secretary of Defense Mark Esper of the ministry’s preference on April 15. Germany could by 45 F/A-18 in total: 30 for the nuclear mission and 15 for electronic warfare.
The Bundestag, Germany’s federal parliament, would have to approve the purchase of the aircraft, which would replace Panavia Tornado aircraft made by Germany’s Panavia Aircraft GmbH: a joint venture supported by Germany, the U.K. and Italy.
Kramp-Karrenbauer’s announcement caught her partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government by surprise, Der Spiegel reported. The defence minister’s Christian Democratic Union party shares power with the Social Democratic Party, and Kramp-Karrenbauer did not inform her party’s coalition partners about the request to Esper for F/A-18 Super Hornet aircraft, according to Der Spiegel.
The F/A-18 would be an alternative to a European choice, the Typhoon. Like the Tornado, the Typhoon is made in Germany by a pan-European coalition. Should the Bundestag ultimately approve the Super Hornet, it would give Boeing another toe hold in a nuclear deterrence mission that is rapidly leaving the once ubiquitous aerospace contractor behind.
Boeing got muscled out of the competition to build the next land-based, U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent. Northrop Grumman [NOC], with a captive rocket-propulsion business that Boeing said gave it an unfair cost advantage, is the only bidder for the $25 billion Air Force contract to build and deploy the new missiles, which will replace the Boeing-built Minuteman III fleet.
Northrop Grumman also makes the B-2 bomber and will make the B-21 Raider, both of which will eventually squeeze out Boeing’s B52H as the primary carrier of air-launched U.S. nuclear weapons.
But Boeing is tied closely to the B61 gravity bomb, holding an Air Force contract to develop the guided tail kit that will give the weapon what the Pentagon calls a “modest” capacity to strike targets not directly overflown by carrier aircraft. Boeing is designing the guided tail kit under a four-year, $215 million Air Force contract definitized in 2019.
Meanwhile, the civilian National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), part of the Department of Energy, is making B61-12 itself. The -12 version of the weapon, the oldest deployed U.S. nuke, will homogenize four previous versions of the bomb, including the B61-11, with its modest earth-penetrating capability.
However, B61-12 was delayed between one and two years after the NNSA discovered that commercial capacitors planned for use in the weapon would not last the three decades over which B61-12 is supposed to remain in the field. That pushed the civilian agency’s first production unit milestone — a proof-of-concept article that demonstrates the design is ready for mass production — to the first quarter of 2022 from 2020.