Germany yesterday refuted a media report that it planned to retire all Tornado bombers by 2013, which would essentially end the country's ability to field U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, United Press International reported (see GSN, April 13, 2009).
Some 22 U.S. B-61 gravity bombs are believed to be kept at the Fliegerhorst Buechel air base in western Germany. Under an arrangement with Washington, German air force pilots are trained in the fielding of the tactical arms from their Panavia Tornado fighter aircraft.
The German Defense Ministry released a statement refuting yesterday's report by the Rheinische Post that the military intended to retire the planes within three years.
"The usage of the weapons system Tornado is planned beyond 2020," a ministry spokesman said in the statement. "The time frame of final decommissioning has not yet been decided."
Notably, the ministry did not rule out the decommissioning of some Tornado bombers, which analysts believe is a probable outcome as the result of reduced defense spending.
The Tornado's replacement, the Eurofighter Typhoon, is not designed to carry the B-61 warheads.
An estimated 200 U.S. B-61 bombs are thought deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey as a holdover from the Cold War. Officials in Berlin and several other European governments have called for the tactical weapons' withdrawal (see GSN, Oct. 1).
Germany's stand could place it at odds with the continent's two nuclear powers -- France and the United Kingdom -- as well as Washington (United Press International, Oct. 7).