Germany's Snub Of Lockheed’s F-35 Unleashes Dramatic Geopolitical Consequences

Germany has snubbed Lockheed Martin's F-35 joint strike fighter, knocking the American stealth fighter of out of a tender worth billions of euros, the German Defense Ministry confirmed on Thursday. Germany's military is seeking to replace its aging Tornado warplanes, for which Boeing's F/A-18 Super Hornet and Airbus' NATO Eurofighter Typhoon remain contenders. 

Should Germany go with the Eurofighter after announcing the F-35 out of the running, which was long rumored to have persistent mechanical and software glitches, this could have huge geopolitical consequences considering current multiplying issues of contention between the US and Germany, not least of which goes to the heart of NATO strategic nuclear readiness

F-35 joint strike fighter, via Lockheed Martin ​​​​

A final decision will be made pending delivery of detailed information from from Boeing and Airbus about their respective aircraft, which must be able to carry and deliver US nuclear weapons in accord with Germany's NATO obligations, and which further must be certified by Washington to carry the nukes. 

This presents a number of potential fault lines that could crack open wide the US-German relationship, and with implications for broader NATO defense, especially related to German Air Force ability to carry American nuclear warheads.  

However, it should be noted that Lockheed spokesman Mike Friedman said in an emailed statement published by Defense News that Lockheed has yet to be notified the F-35 has been dropped from consideration:

“We have not been officially notified of a decision on Germany’s future fighter. The F-35 delivers unmatched value as the most capable and lowest life-cycle cost aircraft, while delivering the strongest long-term industrial and economic opportunities compared to any fighter on the market. As the foundation of NATO’s next generation of air power, the F-35 is the most advanced aircraft in the world today, and includes Electronic Attack capabilities well beyond any specialized fourth generation aircraft.”

We reported previously via Rabobank's Michael Every the domino effect of worsening crises that could result at a time Germany and other EU leading countries feel increasingly emboldened to break from the Trump administration on a number of issues, foremost being the newly launched INSTEX alternate payment vehicle for Iran, intended to bypass US sanctions and the SWIFT system.

The implications and potentially explosive unresolved geopolitical questions Rabobank listed are as follows

  • Germany won’t be buying US planes and so not only doesn’t it spend enough on NATO now, but even if it does ever spend, that cash won’t flow to the US to rebalance trade between the two

  • Only the F-35 is compatible with the US tactical nuclear deterrent, so Germany won’t be under that NATO shield, unless the US signs off on a Eurofighter alternative – why should it, considering the Eurofighter is seen as out of date?

  • Indeed, given EU-US tensions over geopolitics, e.g., EU insistence on trying to circumvent the US sanctions on Iran Trump just said are so important, does anyone see this ending well for US-EU trade relations?

  • And circling back, what if the US does strike a China trade deal, and only US firms get the benefits, not EU? That said, yesterday also saw news that the EU is considering a ban on Huawei for 5G too, so it also seems to be hedging its bets.

  • Yet overall, with no US F-35 exports ahead I am not sure if Germany realizes what it is doing (it seems blithely unaware of a whole host of problems it is creating for everyone, after all); suffice to say that this issue could create as much market fire as the spiciest chili.

Notably, the Typhoon has never been certified by Washington to carry American-made nuclear bombs, and should it be the replacement of choice for the phase out of some 90 jets, it puts US-German relations and indeed NATO strategic posture itself between a rock and a hard place. 

There's the other possibility that Germany could split the buy between the Typhoon and the F-18 Super Hornet, which is currently in use by the US Navy — a potential compromise which though more costly in terms of having to maintain dual supply chains — could be a way out of a potential nuclear certification showdown.