UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Luftwaffe - German Air Force - Modernization

The Military Aviation Strategy [Militärische Luftfahrtstrategie], released 19 January 2016. defines the capabilities of the Bundeswehr. For the first time, the Ministry of Defense developed a military aviation strategy that complements the Federal Government's civil aviation strategy. The Bundeswehr has weapons systems that will reach the end of its useful life within the next ten years, including the heavy transport helicopter CH53. By prioritizing capabilities, the Military Aviation Strategy identifies current and future action needs.

It is clear that the development of highly complex weapon systems - for example, a new generation aircraft [neues Kampfflugzeug] (Next Generation Weapon System) - is no longer possible at the national level.

The strategy for the further development of skills beyond the tactical fighter planes of the 3rd (Tornado) and 4th Generation (Eurofighter) into a future active alliance of the Future Combat Air System – (FCAs) with possible new platforms of different types of interpretation (e.g. Next generation weapon System (NextGenWS)). Parallel operation of two different types of fighter aircraft with partially overlapping capabilities ensures operational flexibility and opens up the possibility of a gradual exchange of the aircraft.

The transformation of the Bundeswehr made it imperative for the Air Force to fine-tune its materiel and equipment consistently, in line with its tasks, to meet the fresh challenges. The procurement of mobile operations centers and the replacement of both the airborne and ground-based weapon systems will mean an altogether greatly improved operational capability.

Procurement of the highly mobile tactical Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS), a transatlantic development, was planned to enhance the ballistic missile defence capability, in particular. Together with an upgraded PATRIOT weapon system, this was to constitute a significant contribution to national risk prevention.

Capabilities for airborne, stand-off and all-weather surveillance and reconnaissance are to be ensured in future mainly by means of unmanned aerial vehicles operating at medium and high altitudes.

The AIRBUS A400M transport aircraft with its air refuelling capability will add considerably to existing airlift capacities. Aircraft range and endurance in the mission area can be increased substantially thanks to air refuelling. AIRBUS A310s are being converted into tanker aircraft to provide an initial national air refuelling capability.

The Air Force provides air ambulances, such as the A310 AirMedEvac, for strategic aeromedical evacuation. The new NH-90 transport helicopter will considerably enhance short-range airlift capabilities and greatly improve the quality of search and rescue performance in Germany. The capability that will then be available for Combat Search and Rescue will be immensely important for own forces on operations.

As part of the realignment of the Bundeswehr, all ongoing defense projects were reviewed in 2011. Accordingly, various courses of action were developed in the Department of Defense. The overall objective is to adequately equip the Bundeswehr from the deployment and simultaneously to gain free space planning for future projects. The Defence Minister Thomas de Maizière approved on 14 October 2011 a plan that included both a change in the number of weapons to be procured as well as a reduction of the already deployed weapons systems.

The flying systems were planned for smaller numbers. The planned number of Eurofighters was to be reduced from 177 to 140 aircraft, the A400M from the original 60 to 40. The existing Tornado fleet was reduced quickly from 185 to 85 weapons systems, the 80 C-160 Transall on 60. The plan is to replace the Transall with A400Ms by 2018 and decommission the last Transall by 2019. From unmanned reconnaissance aircraft five Eurohawk systems were to be procured as planned. The plans for the unmanned system SAATEG were reduced from 22 to 16. The introduction of the air defense system MEADS would be omitted in its entirety, PATRIOT reduced from 29 to 14 systems.


East Germany (DDR) bought 20 MiG-29A and 4 MiG-29UB two seaters just before the all of the Berlin Wall, for the Luftstreitkräfte der NVA (East German Air Force). They entered service in 1988 and 1989. After the German reunification in October 1990 these MiGs were integrated into the Luftwaffe, made NATO-compatible and stationed on Laage Fliegerhorst, with Luftwaffe Jagdgeschwader JG73 “Steinhoff”.

In 2003 22 MiG-29s were sold to the Polish Air Force for a symbolic 1 EUR per Fulcrum, 14 were taken into service with the 41. elt after an overhauled. Of the remaining two German MiGs, one had crashed after a pilot’s fault, and one (the 29+03) is on display at Laage-Rostock airport.


On 01 December 2015 it was reported that Germany is considering retaining at least 24 of its aging C-160 Transall airlifters in service until 2021 due to concerns that the defensive aids suite on its A400Ms will not be ready.

In February 2019 the German government announced it plans to purchase three new Airbus 350 long-haul airplanes for Special Air Mission official trips after a repeated technical failures with its current fleet left several politicians stranded. The three planes will cost €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion), the Defense Ministry said Wednesday. The first is expected to be delivered in 2020 and the other two in 2022. The aging A340-300s currently in service will be phased out, it added.

Glitches with the existing fleet caused several embarrassing incidents in 2018. In November, German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived at a G20 summit late after the A340 "Konrad Adenauer" she was flying on had electrical problems and was forced to land in Cologne. The plane was given a complete overhaul, and on its first flight back in service on April 1, it blew a tire as it landed in New York. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was on board. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was delayed during a trip to several African countries in 2018 when the government's "Theodor Heuss" jet experienced technical problems. His trip to Belarus in July was likewise temporarily grounded when the "Konrad Adenauer" suffered issues with its hydraulic system.

Development Minister Gerd Müller was especially vocal about the problem, complaining that such embarrassing breakdowns were ruining Germany's reputation as a high-tech nation, he said they were damaging the "Made in Germany" brand. The minister decried the incidents as "enormously negative symbolic effect for the high-tech nation of Germany."


In October 2011 the German air force unveiled the latest addition to its fleet: the "Euro Hawk," a state-of-the-art spy drone. But the Euro Hawk project, which intended to acquire five RQ-4 Global Hawk derivatives, was ultimately scrapped in May 2013 due to cost concerns and the certification process regarding European airspace. The reconnaissance aircraft can fly non-stop for 30 hours in the stratosphere without having to refuel and its on-board sensors can penetrate clouds and sandstorms.

The Bundeswehr leased three "Heron" drones from the Israeli Air Force for aerial reconnaissance in Afghanistan; they are not armed. Rheinmetall signed the deal with the German air force in late October 2009. The first flight of the first of the three Israeli-supplied UAVs followed from Mazar-i-Sharif only five months later. In July 2011 Germany leased UAV services for the Afghan conflict, by signing a contract with Rheinmetall.

In early 2012, the German government asked the US if it could order three drones of the "MQ-9 Reaper" model. The "Reaper" can be equipped with air-to-ground missiles or precision-guided bombs. One such drone produced by American manufacturer General Atomics costs around 4.5 million dollars (3.45 million euros). The system is designated SAATEG in German, which translates as “System for Image Generation in Theater Depth.” As of mid-2014 the idea remained under consideration.

Drone weapons are not permitted in European airspace, and operational missions in Afghanistan ended in 2014. In other words, possibilities for their use appear to be negligible at this time.

Germany canceled plans to buy and modify US-manufactured Global Hawk surveillance drones for 1 billion euros ($1.3 billion), a defense ministry source said on 14 May 2013. Germany had no hope seeing it approved after reported European safety concerns. Some 500 billion euros were already spent on a prototype - Germany was expected to pay another 500 million euros for four additional drones. According to German press reports, Global Hawk manufacturer Northrop Grumman also didn't want to provide technical documents necessary for the certification process.

By January 2015 the German Defense Ministry expected to resume flight testing program unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) Euro Hawk. The development would be "reopened" to complete the testing of the integrated system of radio and electronic intelligence SIGINT (Signals intelligence) of Airbus Defence & Space. In October 2014 German Defence Minister Ursula von der Lyayen announced the intention to continue the flight test to recoup some of the 600 million euros ($750 million) investments already in the program.

The German Air Force was in dire need of replenishing SIGINT systems after the write-off in 2010 of five Br-1150 Atlantic aircraft manufactured by Breguet. As the representative of the Ministry of Defence of Germany Air Force Lt. Col. Gero von Fritsch, "we need these technologies to form a clear picture of intelligence, at its base to base their decisions. This is a special area of the information that we currently do not have." According to him, the Ministry of Defence had no plans to complete the development of UAV Euro Hawk. They are considering the possibility of placing an integrated SIGINT system on an alternative platform. A likely candidates for this role UAV MQ-4C Triton, which, like Euro Hawk, is based on the Global Hawk drone. Triton was developed by Northrop Grumman for the benefit of the US Navy.

However, von Fritsch said that among the considered manned business jets type ACJ319 production Airbus and Global Express XRS and Global 5000 production Bombardier, though the decision on the choice of platform had not been not made.

Berlin's Federal Ministry of Defense opted to purchase three Bombardier Global 6000 jets and abandon its plan to buy four US-made MQ-4C Triton aerial surveillance drones. Germany announced 28 January 2020 that after months of deliberation, the ministry of defense decided to forego its initial efforts to install a new reconnaissance system on Northrop Grumman's Triton drones and will instead fix the eavesdropping sensors to Canadian firm Bombardier's manned Global 6000 jets.

While Germany had initially planned for the Persistent German Airborne Surveillance System (PEGASUS) to be installed on the drones, recent financing headaches combined with concerns over European airspace regulations have led to the plan's undoing. A spokeswoman with the ministry told Defense News that the estimated $2.5 billion Triton option, which was approved by the US State Department in April 2018, had grown "significantly more expensive" when compared to earlier assumptions and would not be delivered until 2025. Additionally, opting for a manned aircraft provides Berlin with the ability to not worry about meeting European Aviation Safety Agency guidelines concerning the safety of operating unmanned aircraft alongside conventional air traffic.


By 2018, at its site in Laupheim, the Bundeswehr operated 15 H145Ms as light support helicopters for special forces. The helicopter pilots of all branches of the armed forces train on the H135, the H145’s ‘little sister’. The H145M, the military version of the H145, is a tried-and-tested light twin-engine helicopter that was first delivered to the Bundeswehr in 2015 and has since also been ordered by Serbia, Hungary, Thailand and Luxembourg. Mission readiness of the H145Ms already in service is above 95%.

The Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINWBw) has ordered seven H145 helicopters to replace the German Armed Forces’ (Bundeswehr) obsolete Bell UH-1D search and rescue fleet. The aircraft will be delivered in 2020 and will be stationed at the sites in Niederstetten, Holzdorf and Nörvenich. Airbus Helicopters will also be responsible for logistics support, repair, and maintenance of the helicopters.

“We’re proud to have received another order for our H145 family from the Bundeswehr. This will further standardise the Bundeswehr’s fleet of light helicopters,” said Wolfgang Schoder, Airbus Helicopters’ Executive Vice President Light Helicopters and Governmental Programmes. “The helicopters already operated by the Bundeswehr have proven themselves in particular through their very high levels of operational availability, and we see a lot more possibilities for the flexible and reliable H145 family to perform a wide range of tasks in all branches of the armed forces.”

According to an agreement with the Federal Ministry of Transport, the Bundeswehr is also responsible for search and rescue operations in the event of aircraft accidents on German territory. It therefore maintains a fleet of search and rescue helicopters on permanent standby; and these helicopters are also available for use in national disaster management operations. The Bell UH-1D model currently in use by the Bundeswehr first entered into service in the early 1970s.

Among other features, the H145 LUH SAR (Light Utility Helicopter Search and Rescue) helicopters are equipped with high-performance cameras, searchlights, emergency beacon locator systems, a full suite of medical equipment, rescue winches and load hooks that can be used for fire-extinguishing tanks for example.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list