Eurofighter doubts U.S. will use nuclear certification to tilt German jets bid

BERLIN (Reuters) - The head of Eurofighter on Wednesday said he did not expect the United States to slow certification of the European fighter’s ability to carry nuclear weapons as a way to influence a competition to replace Germany’s aging 90 Tornado jets.

FILE PHOTO: Visitors look at the Eurofighter Typhoon jet during the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo

The Eurofighter is a joint project between British defense group BAE, European airplane maker Airbus and Italy’s Leonardo.

Airbus and Eurofighter on Tuesday submitted six binders of information to the German defense ministry, which has said it will prioritize a European fighter, but has also asked for information about the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jet and Boeing Co’s F-15E and F/A-18E/F jets.

Germany hosts some U.S. nuclear warheads under NATO’s nuclear-sharing policy and maintains a fleet of Tornado fighter jets capable of delivering them. It faces a pressing requirement to replace the jets which are due to retire in the middle of the next decade, as well as a longer-term need to replace its existing Eurofighter combat jets.

F-35 backers say that aircraft is already slated to have the nuclear capability in the early 2020s, while the Eurofighter would still need certification. Airbus says it is confident Eurofighter could get certification by 2025, when Germany wants to start phasing out its Tornado fleet.

But U.S. government sources say that schedule is ambitious given that other aircraft, including the F-35, must be certified first.

Volker Paltzo, chief executive of Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmbH, told reporters at the ILA Berlin Air Show that U.S. certification was required, but said he was confident Eurofighter could take over the roles of the Tornado.

“This is a subject where we would not expect the U.S. to leverage over Eurofighter in this competition,” he said.

Paltzo said the European fighter had already received over 600 orders, and was competing for 300 more across Europe.

He said buying a European fighter would be the best choice for Germany and Europe, keeping jobs at home and building a bridge to a next-generation fighter that Germany and France plan to develop.

U.S. Lieutenant General Charles Hooper, who heads the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency, declined to address the issue of certification specifically, but said he was convinced that all the U.S. entrants in the competition offered the survivability and interoperability that Germany needed.

“Our job is to provide all the information they need to deliberate,” said Hooper, whose agency facilitates all government-to-government arms sales for the U.S. government.

“I think that when all of the information is laid out, the conclusion will be that the United States entries can best respond to the challenges of the future and embody those two characteristics of survivability and interoperability that we think are so important,” he said.

He said Washington supported European defense integration moves, but hoped that non-European Union competitors would still get a fair chance to compete for weapons orders.

U.S. Air Force Deputy Undersecretary Heidi Grant told Reuters Germany had to weigh a number of factors, including its commitments to NATO, the future of its armed forces, and the capabilities of the aircraft in deciding which fighter to buy.

She said it was clear that jobs would also play an important role in Berlin’s decision, but she was certain that the U.S. companies would offer ways to give German industry a stake in the work.

Reporting by Andrea Shalal, editing by Larry King