It’s not often that Europe’s largest economy turns to the United States for military hardware. This time, it seems Germany’s military may have run out of patience with its homegrown alternative.
The German air force plans to buy four to six of Lockheed Martin’s C-130J transport planes, also known as Hercules, a defence ministry spokesman confirmed Wednesday. That’s in addition to 53 A400M aircraft it has already ordered – but failed to receive on time – from the European consortium Airbus.
Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen first revealed the decision during a visit with her French counterpart Tuesday in Paris, where she signed a deal to have the planes stationed in France. It comes after months of speculation over whether the German defense ministry, which wants to phase out its over 40-year-old Transall transporters by 2021, would buy the Hercules plane from the U.S.-listed firm.
A German defense ministry spokesman declined to comment on the cost of the Lockheed Martin order, nor did he say when exactly the German army, known as the Bundeswehr, would formally place its order with the U.S. company.
While the ministry sought to play down its decision, the move to Lockheed comes after repeated delays that have plagued the delivery of the A400M planes. The German air force has so far received just five of the 53 Airbus aircraft it has ordered.
The move is even more signficant given that France and Germany are part of a seven-country European consortium that funded the A400M’s development by Paris-listed Airbus.
“The A400M planes are too big. We also need smaller planes like the Super Hercules that can land on shorter airstrips or minimal infrastructure”
But Germany isn’t the only country that’s turning to a foreign rival. The French government lost patience with Airbus earlier this year, ordering another four C-130J planes from Lockheed in January.
France already owns 14 Hercules planes. The French air force, which is phasing out its own Transall planes, uses the Hercules transport planes alongside its fleet of 10 A400M aircraft. It’s also awaiting the delivery of another 40 cargo planes from Airbus.
Germany plans to station its own Lockheed Martin aircraft near Orléans, a city south of Paris, as part of an effort to increase European cooperation in defense matters. But Berlin dismissed suggestions that Airbus’ delays are the reason for its own decision to purchase the Lockheed planes.
“The A400M planes are too big,” lieutenant-colonel Markus Thull, a defence ministry spokesman, told Handelsblatt Global Edition. “We also need smaller planes like the Super Hercules that can land on shorter airstrips or minimal infrastructure.”
The soon-to-be-replaced Transall planes, a Franco-German development, can be deployed on rough terrain, and the Bundeswehr needs replacement aircraft that offer this possibility as well, Mr. Thull explained.
The explanation seemed to contradict that of Airbus, however, which says the A400M airplane is capable of landing on unpaved airstrips, according to news agency Reuters.
Ms. von der Leyen said the operation of its yet-to-be-acquired Hercules plans out of Paris was “another sign of European cooperation at work.” She signed an agreement in Paris with her French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, to station the Lockheed Martin aircraft in Orléans.
Both defense ministers have advocated reinforced military cooperation between E.U. countries’ armed forces.
Last month, the two ministers sent the European Union’s foreign affairs chief a six-page paper outlining plans for closer E.U. defense cooperation, including a new military headquarters in Brussels and swifter deployment of overseas missions.
The French-German paper says that E.U. military missions, such as anti-migrant smuggler operations in the Mediterranean or the anti-pirate operation off the coast of Somalia, East Africa, should be commanded out of a joint military headquarters instead of rotational command by E.U. states.
Jean-Michel Hauteville is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition in Berlin. To contact the editor: firstname.lastname@example.org