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The procurement of the successor explicitly aims to date by the Tornado fleet to get the action against targets on the ground capabilities provided in total and to adapt the requirements of future operations.

For over three decades is the weapon system Tornado a major carrier of the capabilities of the air force of the action against targets on the ground. His responsibilities include:

  • tactical air reconnaissance (Tactical Air Reconnaissance, TAR)
  • Support of friendly forces on the battlefield (Close Air Support, CAS)
  • Containment of the battlefield from the air (Air Interdiction, AI)
  • Action against the enemy air forces on the ground (Offensive Counter Air, OCA)
  • Suppression of enemy air defense (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense, SEAD)
  • Action against surface units (Anti-Surface Warfare, ASUW)
  • Nuclear Sharing (NT).

The possible successor of the tornado should have similar comprehensive air-to-ground capabilities that need to be also aimed at in the next few decades the expected technical and operational development. Each of these capabilities makes demands in terms of on-board hardware and software and in the weapon system to integrate external loads (sensors, weapons).

The field of candidates for the succession of tornadoes originally comprised four weapon systems (current or future versions of Euro Fighter, F-35, F-18 and F-15). The so-called direction decision of January 2019 reduced the field of applicants to only two weapons systems: F-18 and Euro Fighter.

Certainly played a role in this decision not only technical or operational reasons, but also armaments and -economic - perhaps even those that are available only in an indirect connection with the Tornado succession (such as France's view that the procurement of F -35 detrimental to the joint development of weapon systems for the next generation was).

Trying to technical / operational capacity to weigh the two systems is therefore difficult not only by the secrecy that surrounds such weapons systems necessarily, it could have in a wrong way, because other factors might make the difference. However, the question remains of interest, which could enable the two remaining candidates to take over the tasks of the tornado.


Another difficulty lies in the question of which of the two variants weapons systems should be the subject of consideration. It is assumed that the basis of the range of the Boeing F-18E / F Block III. Machines of this variant to be delivered both to the US Navy (as retrofits of existing machines) as well as to an export customer (Kuwait, new aircraft) shortly. Block III brings a significant further improvements to extend the life of the cell to 9,000 hours of flight time, new elements for human-machine interface (in particular large displays), an advanced network infrastructure, a far-reaching infrared sensor for target recognition and tracking as well as compliant outer tank on top of the fuselage.

Die Finalisten – Am Vorabend einer Entscheidung über den Nachfolger für das Waffensystem Tornado
Graphical representation of a F-18F Block III (Graphic: Boeing)

The offer of Euro Fighter depends obviously on machines with features that go beyond that which is provided for the machines to be procured to replace the Euro Fighter Tranche first This suggests that they already being under contract components such as the AESA radar, improving electronic self-protection systems and the integration of the guided missile Brimstone should have some elements from the so-called Long Term Evolution Program (LTE) in addition already. The LTE includes, inter alia, enhanced power plant, further improvements in electronic warfare, a renewed man-machine interface (large displays, revised control), a geared to handling large amounts of data networked system architecture and increased operational flexibility by greater capacity for electrical energy and , to what the "agile" integration of advanced weaponry and flexible configurations allow cooling. Even conformal external fuel tanks could be integrated 3 already in the now tapering machine Tranche; but so far, no customer has made use of this option.

Die Finalisten – Am Vorabend einer Entscheidung über den Nachfolger für das Waffensystem Tornado
Graphical representation of the Euro Fighters ECR (Graphic: Euro Fighter)

The "general Fighter Bomber tasks"

Basically, you can both from the F-18E / F and expect the Euro Fighter that they can perform the general tasks of fighter bombers as well as four (+) should be possible for the generation weapon systems today and in the coming decades. Both have electronic self-protection systems that give them sufficient assertiveness (which can be reinforced by the integration into a more comprehensive system for electronic warfare, see below), and actual or potential arming options (including distance weapons) that give them sufficient activity against a guarantee wide range of targets.

The most noticeable constraint on the German Euro Fighter in the air-to-ground role is currently the still small number of integrated weapons. The list of basic capabilities and intentions is quite promising - only progress has been rather low. The Euro Fighter Air Force can use currently the GBU-48. The integration of already used the Tornado GBU-54 LJDAM (Laser Guided Joint Direct Attack Munition) and the so-called Dual Mode Brimstone is planned. especially weapons it would be necessary also for use against heavily defended target, which allow a greater distance from the target. Next Taurus would be the smaller weapons such as Spice or 250 Spear. The integration of Taurus and Spear is also attractive because it - in a sense as a first step towards the remote carriers of the Future Combat Air Systems - offers potential for applications that use the current profile of the missiles go (TAR SEAD) and the could expand capabilities of the Euro Fighters.

The real challenge for both candidates are respectively generally, however, the two particular points in the task list, the Nuclear Sharing and the suppression of enemy air defense of Electronic fight.

The Nuclear sharing

wanting because the federal government appears to be committed to the called "Nuclear sharing", dating from the Cold War provision of German platforms for use free-fall tactical nuclear weapons of the US Air Force will continue to maintain this point could become an important selection criterion for the Tornado successors. Currently, the two finalists on this point, however, the same: None of them is certified for the use of nuclear weapons.

The required for this method is complex, costly and time consuming, which is why it will only be applied in general, when the weapon system in question is inevitably needed for a nuclear role. The certification also requires that the certifying body get comprehensive insight into hardware and software of the weapon system has what conflicts of protection can bring their intellectual property with respect to the requirements of the manufacturer. The conditions of certification are currently being exacerbated by the fact that the weapon system also demonstrate its resistance to attacks from cyber space through a so-called penetration test needs.

can the Euro Fighter assume all the roles of the tornado should also means that there can be no insurmountable obstacles to its certification in principle - but this does not mean that they do not yet harder and longer and could be more expensive than the F-18th Some suspect that a significant delta in the time required and the cost could be deliberately created a strong argument for choosing the winning F-18th

Die Finalisten – Am Vorabend einer Entscheidung über den Nachfolger für das Waffensystem Tornado

After a significant delay of the certification would force the league Wehr, either suspend the Nuclear sharing for a specified period or continue to hold some of the certified weapons systems, so tornadoes in service. The former sends another as the desired security policy signal and the latter would create a disproportionately costly mini-fleet of aircraft that should be actually taken for lack of adequate restoration options from the service.

The Electronic Battle

In reaction to the F-35, the armed forces to dispense with a combat aircraft the fifth generation. The central means of combat aircraft of the fifth generation to ensure their survival and assertiveness are their low (radar) signatures (Stealth). The Euro Fighter as well as the F-18 have not been constructed as a stealth aircraft and may also be any more, because the effect of stealth substantially on the (only partly variable) outer shape of the aircraft based. Even if you tried with both weapon systems and to reduce their radar cross section to the extent possible on (form of the engine intakes, coatings), it will continue to stealth aircraft to remain well above the pure. Consequently, both weapons systems require other means to maintain their survival and assertiveness at the required level.

Above all there is the rediscovered recently ability to electronic warfare (EW). In this area have both systems - as already mentioned - modern, robust skills in self-defense. Since the pure self-protection but today is (again) for military clashes with modern equipped, nearly equal opponents considered insufficient, the Bundeswehr has promised in the face of long-standing in NATO prevailing lack of electronic warfare resources, relevant skills of the Air Force overall increase.

Under the name "Airborne effect in the electromagnetic spectrum" (LUWES) ongoing project involves the procurement of three types of systems before:

  • Distance disturbers (stand-off jammer, SOJ) are typically converted transport or transport aircraft. As solutions would a (self-) development, for example in the form of a now and again brought this week variant of the A400M, or the purchase of a complete solution in question.
  • Accompanying interferer (Escort Jammer, ESCJ) are mostly combat aircraft with internal modifications and special external loads. Recently, there is a concrete idea to realize this is also based on the Euro Fighters. Alternatively, the purchase of an already available solution, the EA-18G Growler would be possible.
  • To these to generate usable by manned aircraft Täuschflugköper (Air Launched Decoys ALD), operate the close to enemy air defenses to disrupt (stand-in jammer) or false targets. Such systems are used by the US Air Force in use in Europe and MBDA proposes an electronic warfare variant of its missile Spear ago (Spear EW). The interaction of the carrier aircraft with the Täuschflugkörper can also serve as a first form of the use of remote carriers within the meaning of Future Combat Air System be seen.

Which way (in terms of type of equipment and quantity frameworks) will tread the Air Force at LUWES, is not yet clear. In the area of ​​accompanying interferers and thus also the Täuschflugkörper further action is associated with the decision for the Tornado successor.

Both finalists offer options for electronic warfare, have conceptually very similar. There are doubles with a designed for the electronic warfare functions work in the rear cockpit (where single-seater may be used as so-called augmentation Aircraft), they have an emitter Locator System for precise location of enemy radars and they can both non-lethal (jammers Täuschflugkörper) and lethal external loads (anti-radar missiles, air-to-ground weapons other) to use against the enemy air defense.

They have, however, two important differences. The EA-18 is an already available system where the system is sovereign in the US. The Euro Fighter ECR is a development project, in which in the case of its realization the system Highness would probably be in Germany.

Die Finalisten – Am Vorabend einer Entscheidung über den Nachfolger für das Waffensystem Tornado
A possible configuration of the rear cockpit of the Euro Fighters ECR (Graphic: Euro Fighter)

The Euro Fighter GmbH believes that a "first ECR ability" may be available from the 2026th This would be consistent with the time frame for the replacement of the tornadoes. However, the technical challenges associated with the development of the ECR variant are not trivial, so that one might suspect based on the experience of recent decades that there will also be delays.

Die Finalisten – Am Vorabend einer Entscheidung über den Nachfolger für das Waffensystem Tornado
The EA-18 "Growler" (Photo: Boeing)

The EA-18 is already used in the US Navy and Australian air forces today and is the Next Generation Jammer be developed in the near future with the introduction of three well-working in different frequency ranges variants. Your potential drawback is the not lying national responsibility system Highness. Unreserved multinational cooperation is precisely in the field of electronic reconnaissance and electronic struggle so far not a given. Modern Electronic Warfare is based on a closed chain of the explanation of the programming (the threat databases and either the intended effect directly or its underlying artificial intelligence) to the application of the effect. This chain was previously mainly under national control.


Basically, the Tornado successor includes a choice between a market-available system (the F / A-18 E / F / G) but probably but adjusted in some respects to national requirements would, and a development project (still not available Euro Fighter variants), which can be not least aligned because of national sovereignty system from the outset and reliably to national demands, but brings greater financial and above all temporal risks.

On another level is the connected with a two-different weapons systems fighter jet fleet operational flexibility against the defense industrial advantages of a single line of development on top of that with the development of Future Combat Air System could be connected. That could be associated with the choice of one or the other finalists in the field of certification for Nuclear sharing or ensuring the necessary degree of national sovereignty and Control of Electronic struggle actual or feared complications that decision further complicate.

The decision was postponed by several months already. to do so again, given the complexity might seem justified. however, it increases the likelihood that short-term measures (such as the continued operation of part of the Tornado fleet) must be taken to further increase the costs without contributing materially to a long-term solution.

Author: Ulrich racing