The Luftwaffe's major equipment procurement

Let's have a look at the German Luftwaffe (air force).

The procurement of major systems by the Luftwaffe is a long story of mediocre decisions in my opinion. "Mediocre" was unusually polite. Let's say "often crappy".

It began with a couple of outdated air defence and aircraft systems in the 50's, as first jump-start equipment. The Luftwaffe was no effective fighting fore in the 50's due to the rapid expansion and lack of experience - the quality of the equipment was less important than the cost, and that was very low.

Let's look at the later decisions:

G.91Y - light fighter bomber, 1960's
This was a useful light fighter-bomber, but clearly inferior to the Skyhawk.
Poor decision, the Luftwaffe missed the opportunity to get one of the greatest fighter-bombers of all time.

F-104G Starfighter - interceptor and fighter-bomber - 1960's
This caused a long-lasting scandal in Germany because hundreds of the Starfighters crashed.
It would have been an excessively poor choice even without a single crash, though. Range, useful payload, short runway capability and agility (except roll rate) were (almost) non-existing. It was a Mach 2 sports plane for test pilots, but crap as military front-line aircraft.
Several superior alternatives were known at the time, among them the Mirage III.
The Mirage III was a good fighter and a capable fighter-bomber well beyond its prime as a fighter.
(It should be noted that our SecDef Strauß considered the Starfighter also as a low level supersonic dash speed nuclear bomber - a role in which over shortest distances it had indeed no equal.)

Noratlas - tactical air transport - 1950's

This (in German service rather short-lived) transport aircraft was no major mishap, but it was no great choice either. The very successful (but larger) C-130 was already available at that time.

Transall C-160 - tactical air transport - 1960's

This was the successor of the Noratlas, again we chose not to buy the (still larger) C-130 Hercules. Again probably not the best choice, but likely OK because domestic aircraft production means a flow of about 40-60% of the funds back to the government's budget by taxes.

HAWK and I-HAWK - surface-to-air missiles - 1960's and 1970's

This is a quite successful and adequate SAM, not perfect but adequate. It was certainly the right choice.

VTOL projects - fighter, fighter-bomber and tactical transport aircraft - 1960's and 1970's

These were very expensive concepts, but probably wrong only in hindsight. We didn't buy any for the Luftwaffe. The fear that our airfields and probably even improvised/reserve airfields on roads might be neutralized by bomb attacks motivated VTOL research. VTOL can add to the aircraft's agility and the designs keep some of their fascination even today - but it was obvious that their internal fuel capacity would be very small. More investment into STOL technologies like RATO, arresting hooks and grass airfield undercarriages & air inlets was probably a better choice even without hindsight.
Maybe the VTOL projects were overengineered.

F-4 Phantom II - fighter, reconnaissance aircraft, heavy fighter-bomber - 1970's

The Luftwaffe sucks at fighter procurement. These were again in part bought to please the U.S. government.
The F-4 Phantom failed pretty much over Vietnam even against outdated subsonic fighters. Both the Sidewinder and even more so the Sparrow missile of the 60's were quite disappointing (the Soviet counterparts were even worse). The dominant form of air combat at that time was the dogfight, which required much better agility - and favored numerical superiority. The F-4 wasn't agile enough to be a good fighter for Central Europe and it required twice the price, fuel, maintenance hours and crew in comparison to single-engine, single-seat fighters.
It was a good fleet defense interceptor and night fighter, acceptable heavy fighter-bomber and debatable reconnaissance aircraft.
The worst: We didn't even buy the Sparrow missile for the Phantom II and initially tried to get a one-seater version, trying to (and in part succeeding in) deleting the two only (mediocre) strengths of the design.
Two alternatives come to my mind; first, the Mirage F.1 was available years before we bought the Phantom II and was a significant dogfight and take-off improvement over the Mirage III.
The other alternative - only for the fighter role and a bit later available - was the heavy high-end fighter Eagle, which was clearly superior.

Alpha Jet - jet trainer and very light fighter-bomber - 1970's

The Hawk is widely acknowledged to be a superior alternative.
The difference wasn't great, though.

Tornado IDS - low altitude interdiction fighter-bomber - 1970's and 1980's

Luckily, we didn't buy the Tornado ADV (fighter), but only the IDS and later the ECR. The ADV wasn't the right choice even for the British (F-14 and F-15 would have been superior), and it would have been a poor fighter over Central Europe.
The IDS version was an OK fighter-bomber with good low level flight characteristics.
It should have been a bit more elaborate, though. An anti-radar missile like Shrike/Alarm/HARM should have been available from day one. The AGM-65 Maverick should have been available as well. A guided bomb like Hobos might have helped as well. The fixation on very low level terrain-following flight seems to have blinded the Luftwaffe in regard to such guided ground attack munitions during the 80's.
We could have bought A-7 Corsair II and A-10 Thunderbolt II instead of Tornado IDS - but that would have been a different concept with a similar cost/benefit ratio.

MIM-104 Patriot - surface-to-air missiles - 1980's

A major improvement over I-Hawk, but with a dangerous weak spot; inferior azimuth coverage. The old Cold War doctrine called for a line of SAM batteries to back up our fighters along Western Germany from south to north, and Patriot was adequate for this job. An expensive domestic development project and the adaption of naval systems (Sea Dart, SM-2MR) were the only alternatives.

Tornado ECR - SEAD and reconnaissance aircraft - 1990's

The Tornado ECR was a decent program as well, although it was a small scandal that crucial equipment was missing during the first years. Again, its guided weapons arsenal is a bit limited; Alarm, Maverick and MALD should play a big role for Tornado ECR.
It would have been a good idea to get the wild weasel capability much earlier (up to two decades earlier!), too.

NH90 - transport helicopter - modern

The NH90 development is mostly unnecessary. Just like we could have bought Apaches in the mid-80's instead of the army's Tiger helicopter program. The alternatives to the NH90 were Super Puma and Black Hawk. I consider the NH90 program more as industrial policy than as a military necessity.
It's a great helicopter and now the best of its kind, but the development costs were not necessary.

Jäger90 / EFA / Eurofighter / Typhoon - fighter and later multi-role aircraft - modern

This project simply lasted for too long. A quarter century is too much time for a project. The 90's peace dividend delayed the project in addition to the normal delays in a multi-national program (like the French leaving it in favor of the Rafale).
The EFA was a great 80's design, would have been the world's best fighter in the 90's - and entered service directly as an aircraft that was not inferior to unfriendly nation's inventories, but way behind the state of the art.
It was turned into a normal multi-role combat aircraft, a fighter-bomber, real quick.
We should begin the next fighter development now. Maybe the Japanese would allow us to participate in their ATD-X program?

I see several possible alternatives; the Eagle (this time the C/D versions), the Hornet, the Fighting Falcon XL (this suffers from its small radar, though) and possibly also the Mirage 4000.
Every of these alternatives could have entered service in the 1980's, the only "cheap" alternative would have been the Fighting Falcon XL - at the same time the weakest beyond visual range (BVR) fighter in the list.

A400M - transport aircraft - modern

We should have joined the An-70T project instead of this mess. See also here.
Furthermore, we should have bought a junior partner instead of following the old one-size-fits-it-all approach: The CN-235 comes to my mind.

My opinion is that the Luftwaffe had a fighter technology weakness since its rebirth in the 1950's. The few Typhoons of today are OK, but only because the challengers are even more dated.
The attack aircraft, transport aircraft and air defence equipment otherwise was mostly adequate.
It's no wonder that some U.S.Americans have the perception that the U.S. and not the Europeans bear the responsibility for air superiority in NATO. The French had always good fighters, but few - and most other European NATO air forces had rather mediocre fighter equipment. The fighter equipment of the USAF wasn't good between the Sabre's prime time in the 50's and the arrival of the F-15 in quantity, though.
Luckily, the MiG-21 was a terrible fighter (and a mediocre interceptor), later reinforced by mediocre MiG23s.

We won't have the luxury to choose the best among several in-production fighter designs in the future - and usually missed such opportunities in the past anyway.

I criticized some U.S. projects like the F-22 (or more accurately: their fans' positions) several times so far. The German air force procurement is in my opinion no better. It just doesn't offer as interesting lessons. Political influence and a failure to appreciate available and superior designs were our problems - not such shiny errors like belief in wonder weapons.


edit 2014: I wouldn't call the NH90 "great" any more, as it has design faults.
I'd also emphasize the ignored option of creating a powerful 70's Luftwaffe with 1,000+ F-5E/F. Their cost effectiveness was astonishing. Their dogfight strength, frugality, efficiency, mission radius and versatility was perfect.

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