Luftwaffe: F-35 or Typhoon for air/ground?

There's an ongoing debate about how to equip the Luftwaffe (German air force) for the air-to-ground mission.
The German Eurofighter/Typhoon has very limited A2G capabilities, and those are very recent additions that don't affect most planes.
a more practical A/G load for a Typhoon would be 4 guided bombs
The old Tornados are mostly limited to SEAD and recce, with very limited and mostly very old-fashioned general ground attack capabilities and they're getting really old.

The most-mentioned alternatives are
  • Typhoons properly equipped for A2G (this may be upgraded existing airframes or new airframes or a mix or upgrading old ones and buying new ones dedicated for A2A) and
  • F-35A.
The ministry appears to favour Typhoons, the head of the Luftwaffe publicly favours the F-35A.

My superficial comment on this is that it's utterly wrong to favour either in public. You need to exploit alternatives for a price-reducing competition. Anything but such behaviour is either malign (trying to gift money to for-profit businesses) or incompetent.
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I have a very different comment on this on a  level more removed from such superficial news:

Let's face a fact: The Luftwaffe would love to have many gold-plated A/G aircraft, and it would be guaranteed to neglect stockpiling PGMs for all those gold-plated A/G aircraft. To do what Luftwaffe leadership or ministry of defence would do is all but guaranteed to be inefficient. Efficiency is not their primary criterion for what they favour AT ALL.

"Red" area air defences and fighters would make A/G missions without standoff munitions very risky and thus rather unlikely in the first days if not weeks of conflict. Yet to launch some cruise missile doesn't require a high end strike fighter. You may even make do with transport aircraft if the missile is long-ranged enough. The F-35 would not change this much; I expect it to be used in recce up close, but not without punishing losses. A/G up close is unlikely in the first week even above 15,000 ft - unless there are some mechanised raids that went well beyond the protection of area air defence umbrella and fighter cover. Allies will likely have enough F-35A to exploit what favourable opportunities for up close A2G exist in the first 1-2 weeks.

Germany is fairly close to potential war zones (NE Poland, Baltics) and should in my opinion focus on what defence requires in the first few weeks. This means rather fighters, very good area air defences, DEAD (destruction of enemy air defences) and SRBMs (ballistic missiles of less than 500 km range, accurate to few metres). So far we have fighters (dozens of 100% mission ready Eurofighter Typhoon, dozens more usable ones in a in less than perfect state of repair).

There's something else the Luftwaffe could do to greatly bolster deterrence & defence: Provide more and better infrastructure in the right places.
approx. range of Iskander SRBMs
Think about it; where would hundreds of Rafales, F-35, F-22 and Typhoons be based in the event of conflict?
Western states of Germany, France, Benelux, Austria, Italy? Those places are awfully far away from NE Poland, and even much farther from Estonia. There's not even close to enough (expensive) tanker capacity for 3 sorties/day from such distant bases.
We need bases in the Eastern German states and in the Czech Republic; as close as it gets without entering the range of Iskander missiles based in Kaliningrad Oblast (Russia could have hundreds more such missiles in there within 1-3 years).

To build air base infrastructure and to maintain it is not glorious, it's not fun, it's not satisfying - which is why it is almost certain to be neglected. Find me one Luftwaffe general or Luftwaffe fanboi who would like to see this done. Their all-natural aversion to this is entirely irrelevant to the question whether it would be wise to do it or not, of course.

There's deterrence & defence and then there's the stuff that makes 'top' leadership happy. The overlap is systemically small.

I say; the Luftwaffe should forget about F-35, give up on A/G Typhoons! *

Instead, the Luftwaffe should go for
  • improving the readiness of  the Typhoon fleet by building up stockpiles of spare parts
  • building additional air bases in Eastern states of Germany for 500+ combat aircraft
  • building facilities adjacent to some civilian airports in Eastern states of Germany for 200+ combat aircraft
  • building some of the special maintenance facilities required by F-22 on existing air bases in Western German states
  • exercises to deploy Typhoon wings from Western states of Germany to some of those new air bases within 24 hrs without early warning
  • encouraging similar deployment exercises by allies, for example by refuelling them for free for a week after a 24 hrs quick deployment of all the wing's ready aircraft
  • investing in 500+ SRBMs with CEP better than 10 m
  • creating very capable soft kill defences and area air defences to secure the main air bases, particularly the ones with forces present in peacetime
  • investing in soft kill (multispectral smoke, Pandarra fog (if it really works), GLONASS jammer) and a perimeter of ShoRAD for some road bridges at the Oder river
  • investing in better electronic warfare capabilities that could lay the groundwork for a DEAD and air superiority campaign by reconnoitring 'red' area air defence and fighter behaviour in wartime mode
  • investing in having almost all Typhoons fully equipped for A2A missions** including enough Meteor missiles and a Meteor upgrade with AESA radar

It's incredibly counter-intuitive to tailor one's forces to deterrence & defence, apparently. Almost everyone - no doubt most readers included - gravitates towards 'balanced' armed forces, regardless of how irrelevant some parts would be and regardless of how miniature the end result would be. Such behaviour is very wasteful.



*: Though I admit the versatile GBU-54 is extremely enticing. It it takes quite an effort even for me to resist its promises.
**: Some of them - particularly two-seaters used for type conversion training and the oldest machines - wouldn't need to be upgraded.


  1. What would you think about cheap bomb-trucks. Which could be even "COIN" Aircrafts which would have several other advantages too in the current expeditionary warfare. Such COIN Aircraft / light ground attack aircraft could carry out A2G missions much cheaper after the enemy air defence is reduced / destroyed than other much more advanced aircraft and are therefore much more efficient as simple bomb trucks. Whats your opinion about that idea ?

    1. You need no combat aircraft as bomb truck. Transport aircraft with rear ramp can do so in COIN and with ALCMs in conventional warfare. Nothing cheap is survivable in face of modern red fighters or air defences unless it's cheaper than the missiles they'd have to use.

      There's also the spectre of red air defences refusing to allow their destruction and persisting as 'fleet in being' in survival mode as did the Yugoslav air defences in 1999.

  2. https://fas.org/man/eprint/benson.htm


  3. I am dubious about the survivability of airfields even against CM attacks which way outrange Iskanders. If you are going to build more infrastructure, it needs to be hardened, easily repairable and chock full of decoys etc. and given good air and ground defences, EOD, CBRN, rapid runway repair teams, repair materials etc. None of this is sexy either.

    What platform does the Luftwaffe use the Taurus KEPD350 from?

    1. Well,

      Luftwaffe uses Taurus on Tornado afiak, but integration in Typhoon was begun years ago and may be completed already (I didn't bother to to check; they would use Typhoon for it anyway as long as it's available).

  4. Surprised about the 500 SRBMs. Sort of a taboo for Europeans. If Germany kept the ~250 MLRS operational with the newer ATACMS version that would be the exact 500 in the first strike.

    Bases. Considering the number of civilian runways and more then an excellent road network - why not go the Swedish BAS 04 way? A fighter squadron that can be operated form two different bases simultaneously with all support being mobile.

    No F-35s. Indeed. If spending - then F-15Es. Or better why not keep the Tornados? Increase the ECR number. If frames with acceptable flight hours still exist buy them from other users. If not - rebuild. War is always about attrition - numbers matter. You already have the pilots and the ground crews. Why switch to new? The plane will do it's job in years to come. The opponent is not that superior. Spare parts, ordnance.

    Wish Raytheon could cut the height of Sea-RAM a bit. It's not that heavy, already in use. If in could be a bit shorter so can be truck mounted and travel by most roads.