BERLIN (Reuters) -Germany will buy 35 U.S. F-35 fighter jets to replace its ageing Tornado, it said on Monday, announcing a first big defence deal since Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged a 100-billion-euro upgrade to the military in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The move appeared to be part of a tectonic shift in German security policy, including a pledge to reach NATO's 2% target for defence spending, after years of accusations that Germany was too dovish towards Moscow in compensation for its Nazi past.
"After looking thoroughly into all available options, I decided to initiate the purchase of F-35 aircraft as replacement for the Tornado in the role of nuclear sharing," Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said in a statement.
The Tornado is the only German jet capable of carrying U.S. nuclear bombs, which are stored in Germany, in case of a conflict. But the German air force has been flying the Tornado since the 1980s, and Berlin is planning to phase it out between 2025 and 2030.
As a replacement, the F-35 offers unique opportunities for cooperation with NATO allies and other European partners alike, Lambrecht said, referring to the fact that many other nations have ordered the stealth jet built by Lockheed Martin.
A German defence source told Reuters in early February that Berlin was leaning toward purchasing the F-35 but a final decision had not been taken.
Berlin will also purchase 15 Eurofighter jets equipped for electronic warfare, a capability yet to be developed by Franco-German producer Airbus, according to a confidential document sent to lawmakers to inform them of government plans.
The F-35 purchase will be a blow for Boeing, whose F-18 was favoured by former German defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer to replace the Tornado.
The decision could also upset France. Paris monitored Germany's deliberations over the F-18 or more advanced F-35, fearing a deal could undercut the development of a joint Franco-German fighter jet that is supposed to be ready in the 2040s.
In an effort to assuage French concerns, Lambrecht echoed Scholz in stressing continued German support for the joint fighter programme.
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(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Andreas Rinke; writing by Miranda Murray; editing by Kirsti Knolle and Mark Heinrich)