So, recently Germany somewhat controversially ordered 45 F-18 fighter jets, supposedly for replacement of the old Tornado fighter jets to still have jets capable of delivering US nuclear bombs, given that the main force of Typhoon jets is not capable of carrying them.

This question is not about how Germany got into this position, but rather why since the downfall of the Soviet Union and possibly since the joining of the eastern European countries into the EU this hasn't changed.

In particular my question is:

  • Why weren't the US nuclear weapons exchanged for ones from other european nations, in particular for french ones?
  • Why weren't the bombs designated for delivery by german pilots and crafts transferred to a US airforce base in Germany, e.g. Ramstein AB, which would give the US "full" control over the bombs and their secrets (in fact the opposite happened)?

This seems particularly strange given that it would allow the US to fully remove the guarding troops from Germany and push the associated cost to the french. Also it would probably allow the Typhoon to be used as the primary delivery platform given that one of the rumoured reason why it's not suited for US bomb delivery is the fact that the construction countries don't want to give up construction details to the US.

Note: I'm not asking why the weapons are still in Germany, because apparently it's a done-decision that they're essential for deterrence.

Also I'm not sure how "why" questions are handled here. If they're too hard / impossible to answer I'll also gladly accept "what are possible reasons to do X" type answers.

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    Your lede is wrong in so many ways that I can only downvote your question. Did you actually read the article you link to? The rest of the question display a lock of knowledge about nuclear sharing and NATO. Apr 25, 2020 at 11:35
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    @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder post an answer explaining why it’s wrong then. I don’t think downvoting for an incorrect premise is especially helpful (and then not even explain why the premise is wrong, just saying “so many ways”).
    – Tim
    Apr 25, 2020 at 16:20
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    See also history.stackexchange.com/q/58834/1773 Apr 25, 2020 at 17:32
  • Because we don't trust the Frenchies. Sep 21, 2021 at 19:04

2 Answers 2


The issue around the Eurofighter Typhoon not being able to carry American nuclear weapons would not have been resolved by switching to a sharing agreement with another European nuclear-capable country. This is because the only other EU country that has both nuclear capabilities and operates the Typhoon is the UK - and they withdrew their airborne nuclear capability in the 1990s.

France also wasn't an option because it wasn't part of the NATO command structure between the 1960s and 1990s, so it wasn't going to share its nuclear weapons with anyone that was under a different nuclear command.

Germany could potentially borrow nuclear weapons from France today, but its main blocker is that Germany doesn't want to spend a huge amount on defence spending these days - the Tornado fleet is woefully underfunded for example. Borrowing nuclear weapons from France would mean having to develop the capability to deliver those weapons from either the Tornado or the Typhoon - and Germany would have to bear the full costs of doing that, as they are the sole Tornado or Typhoon operator wanting that capability.

Germany got the nuclear capability in the Tornado because at the time that platform was being developed, the UK also had that requirement. This time, however, Germany stands alone.

Buying the Super Hornet means that they can replace the Tornado with a cheaper fleet (worldwide SH operators outnumber both Tornado and Typhoon operators, meaning cheaper maintenance costs) while maintaining nuclear compatibility with the US in one package. The SH is cheaper to buy than the Typhoon, so when you are replacing the fleet anyway, that combined with not having to develop the capability makes the difference.

So, most of the reason for not borrowing from another European country (options being France or the UK) are costs associated with developing that capability as part of a fleet purchase or renewal. Up until now, they have been shared with other European partners, but now Germany is the sole owner of the requirement and thus costs associated with it.

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    Germany can not simply borrow nuclear weapons from anybody (including the US) because of the Non-Proliferation Treaty. And France has made it clear that they will never share their nuclear weapons with anybody, Apr 25, 2020 at 11:38
  • @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder nuclear weapons sharing has always been a controversial thing, but it happens, NPT or not.
    – user16741
    Apr 25, 2020 at 12:51
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    "France also wasnt an option because it wasnt part of the NATO command structure between the 1960s and 1990s" -- More importantly, it's never been part of NATO's Nuclear Planning Group. Even though it's now part of the unified command structure, France has always maintained total control of its own nuclear weapons posture.
    – cpast
    Apr 25, 2020 at 20:32
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    and that's even thinking France would be willing to hand control of even a few of their weapons to another country, especially Germany...
    – jwenting
    Sep 21, 2021 at 8:30

The purpose of nuclear sharing was not just the operational benefit of delivering a few tactical nuclear weapons. It served to reinforce the MAD doctrine by entangling nuclear and conventional forces and American and European forces in a matter that an attack against one would have to be seen as an attack against all.

  • After brief complacency in the 90s, the question of deterrence in Europe is very much alive. The idea of German (and Italian, and Dutch, and Belgian, and Turkish) aircraft delivering US weapons should be much more scary to a potential aggressor than the idea of them delivering French weapons, simply because it would unequivocally involve the US.
  • It is naive to believe that Germany would have to spy on US bombs to be able to build their own. Germany has plutonium, it has a nuclear industry (now being wound down), it has delivery systems, it has scientists. Germany promised not to build nukes and that promise is seen as credible in the current political climate. There are no technical obstacles.

What you propose would have the political effect of weakening the transatlantic structure of NATO and reinforcing the military bonds within the EU27. That is not to the benefit of either the US or the EU.

(When it comes to costs, consider that the American President has the launch authority over the weapons. So basically the other NATO members are "donating" part-time use of their fighter wings to US control. They are not receiving the weapons for their own, independent use.)

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    The launch authority is shared: Of course German planes won't fly without orders from German politicians. Apr 25, 2020 at 11:40
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    @ReinstateMonica-M.Schröder, double key, double responsibility. If those missions ever have to fly, the Chancellor cannot pretend that it was some foreigner who made the decisions.
    – o.m.
    Apr 25, 2020 at 12:04

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