The sharing of responsibility for the storage and delivery of tactical nuclear weapons among member countries is a key aspect of NATO’s strategic deterrent. NATO’s arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons consists entirely of air-delivered B61 gravity bombs. Currently, in addition to U.S. forward-based fighters, five NATO countries — Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey — host tactical nuclear weapons, and all of these but Turkey have dual-capable aircraft dedicated to their delivery. The German Air Force, the Luftwaffe, must decide within the next several years on a replacement for its fleet of some 70 nuclear-capable Tornado fighters which need to be retired starting in 2025. For political and industrial base reasons, the German government prefers to replace its Tornado aircraft with a European fighter. However, it is already too late to develop a new aircraft and meet the 2025 deadline. In the long term, Germany will naturally want to pursue a European fifth-generation fighter capability. But for now, it makes sense for the Luftwaffe to acquire the F-35. I have written about Germany’s need for the F-35 for Defense News here.
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