BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany will choose between the Eurofighter and Boeing’s F/A-18 fighter jet to replace its aging Tornado fighter jets, knocking Lockheed Martin’s F-35 out of a tender worth billions of euros, Defence Ministry sources said on Thursday.
The ministry said it would make a final decision after receiving information from Boeing and Airbus about the aircraft, which must be able to carry U.S. nuclear weapons to fulfill Germany’s obligations to NATO, the sources said.
No timetable for a decision was given, but the process could take time since the U.S. government will have to certify both jets to carry the nuclear weapons.
The German air force will also move ahead with long-awaited plans to replace its 33 oldest Eurofighter jets, now used mainly for air policing or training, with new, more capable Eurofighters in coming years, the sources said.
The decision marks a big setback for Lockheed, the top U.S. arms maker, which hoped to add to recent F-35 sales to other European countries, including most recently Belgium.
The decision answers a call by Germany’s Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling coalition, who had argued against a rushed decision to buy U.S. aircraft and demanded a more thorough accounting of total costs.
Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen, a conservative, had initially promised a decision on the procurement plans, valued by some experts at over 15 billion euros ($17 billion), by the end of 2018.
Military officials said the Tornadoes, which entered service in 1983, need to be replaced urgently because of rising maintenance costs. Sources familiar with the matter said the added costs to extend their service life beyond 2030 could be as high as 8 billion euros.
Sources familiar with the process last year said the ministry wanted to split the order between the Eurofighter, which is built by Airbus, Britain’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Leonardo SpA, and one of the two U.S. planes.
Washington is pressuring Germany to raise military spending and would welcome an order of U.S. jets. But Paris, Germany’s closest European partner, has said that could derail plans to develop a new Franco-German fighter by 2040.
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