BERLIN (AP) — German lawmakers on Wednesday gave the go-ahead for a series of defense procurement projects, including the purchase of Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets, as Berlin begins to spend a huge fund to strengthen the country’s military.
Germany in mid-March announced plans to replace aging Tornado bomber jets with 35 F-35A Lightning II aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons. That was one of a series of projects worth a total of nearly 13 billion euros (nearly $13.8 billion) that have now been approved by parliament’s budget committee.
German air force commander Ingo Gerhartz said pilot training on the F-35s would start in 2026 and the first planes should come to Germany in 2027.
The German military has no nuclear weapons of its own, but as part of the system of nuclear deterrence developed during the Cold War it maintained bombers capable of carrying U.S. atomic bombs, some of which are stationed in Germany.
The U.S. Embassy in Berlin said the purchase agreement signed Wednesday calls for the F-35s to be delivered between 2026 and 2029. It said in a statement that “the U.S.-German defense relationship has never been stronger and is a key pillar of NATO’s transatlantic partnership.”
The budget committee of Germany’s parliament, which has to approve any military procurement project larger than 25 million euros, gave the green light for eight projects in all Wednesday. They also included the purchase of new assault rifles and radio systems and an upgrade to Puma armored personnel carriers.
Much of the funding comes from the 100 billion-euro fund to upgrade the military that Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February and that parliament approved in June.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht dismissed suggestions that the government had been too slow to get going on its defense spending drive. She said officials have moved fast but that “such projects must be carefully negotiated — this is tax money.”
Officials acknowledge that the German military, the Bundeswehr, has for years suffered from neglect and in particular from aging, poorly functioning equipment. Scholz’s center-left Social Democrats and the main center-right opposition party, which led the government for 16 years under ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel, have blamed each other for that.