Germany Prepares for Its F-35 Force: Driving Change Throughout Germany’s Capability for the Direct Defense of Europe

By Robbin Laird

The upcoming Air Defender 2023 exercise, to be hosted by Germany this summer, will see the deployment of F-35s with the NATO air forces.

Brian Everstine noted in a recent Aviation Week and Space Technology article:

“Six F-35s from the Vermont Air National Guard will deploy to Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, for the exercise. These are from the same unit that deployed last year in the early stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to watch NATO’s Eastern Front. Germany will be particularly interested in these aircraft, since they will be operating a short distance from Buchel, where the Luftwaffe plans to base its own F-35s….

“Lt. General Gerhartz (the head of the Luftwaffe) says he wants to see how the Vermont F-35s integrate into a large-scale exercise and fly with Luftwaffe aircraft. “We are, right now, in the learning side,” he says. Loh says the Guard can also help Germany stand up its operations. Buchel is a small, fighter-focused base, more similar to a Guard location like Burlington than a major active-duty facility. Germany plans for its F-35s to replace Panavia Tornados, serving the nuclear dual-capable role.”

When I attended the International Fighter Conference in Berlin 2018, the conference saw a face off between the F-35 and the FCAS/Eurofighter combination to meet Luftwaffe modernization needs. The conference was held at a time when the Luftwaffe Chief had been fired for arguing publicly in support of acquiring F-35 rather than delaying until he could have such capability in 2040.

As two former Luftwaffe chiefs including the one who had been dismissed argued at the time:

“With the decision to take the fighter aircraft F-35 of the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin without closer consideration from the competition for the succession of the obsolete Tornado jets of the Bundeswehr, Germany maneuvers itself in NATO offside. Moreover, with the simultaneous postponement of the successor decision for the 85 Tornado aircraft indefinitely, Germany weakens NATO at its core – the credible deterrence and thus its ability to maintain peace in Europe. Why were these two decisions made that way? There is only one answer to that: they were made just for political and industrial reasons. For from the perspective of all military experts, the succession decision is already overdue for years.”

The Russians crushed the German decision-making process and made 2040 far too late to add an advanced fighter and last year the German government decided upon the need to acquire the F-35 in the near to mid-term.

Acquiring the F-35 though is not just about a fighter jet and one that could carry nuclear weapons: it is about having an integrated flying combat force which can work to provide multi-domain capabilities for force projection throughout Europe to meet the threat wherever it occurs.

As I noted in an April 2022 article:

‘The “flying combat system” which is the F-35 triggers further changes in the air-ground-naval forces which German has and will develop. For example, this decision clearly highlights the importance of Germany building out its force transformation capabilities such as acquiring the CH-53K, a digital aircraft, which the Marines are integrating with the F-35 in shaping their ability to enhance force mobility in the combat space.

‘And for Germany, moving force to the point of impact against an adversary always looking to exploit the seams in the Alliance, such a capability is crucial. For Germany to get full value out of its F-35 acquisition, opening up the possibilities for force development and transformation driven by the operation of this aircraft with its allies over the extended battlespace crucial to German and European security.”

And with the arrival of the CH-53K to MAWTS-1 this year, the WTI course has demonstrated the ability of the new aircraft to support flexible basing and an ability to support insertion forces across the battlespace.

As the F-35 comes into its own, agile combat employment and multi-domain warfare can evolve. But to have the full combat effect, the force has to evolve with it.

Featured Photo: U.S. Marines with Combat Logistics Battalion (CLB) 24, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Logistics Group, wait for an F-35C Lightning II lift to land during Helicopter Support Team operations at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., Dec. 13, 2022. CLB-24, conducted external lift operations with a helicopter support team to develop tactics, techniques, and procedures of CH-53K King Stallion utilization as the Marine Corps modernizes and prepares to respond globally to emerging crises or contingencies. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Meshaq Hylton)