Andrzej Jeziorski/MUNICH

GERMAN DEFENCE minister Volker R_he has gone public with a face-saving strategy opening the door for Germany to increase the number of Eurofighter EF2000s it buys.

R_he has said that, while the air force's Eurofighter requirement up to the year 2012 - as far ahead as German budget plans go - remains at 140 aircraft, the current production workshare debate justifies looking beyond this time.

The minister says that there is a potential requirement for an unspecified number of additional aircraft to replace air force Panavia Tornado strike aircraft which will be retired from service. Germany is looking at increasing its assembly-line offtake to as many as 180 production aircraft.

Sources in Bonn view R_he's statement as a means of testing the reactions of political opponents of the programme before committing himself outright to the number Germany will finally buy.

"He has not nailed his colours to any particular mast yet. He can now judge the response and then decide his actions," says one Bonn source.

The German defence ministry has for some time been considering increasing its production offtake as a solution to the long-running debate over production workshare.

Under the terms of the Eurofighter programme, workshare is supposed to be linked to offtake, which would mean that industrial partner Daimler-Benz Aerospace would only receive 23% of the production work with a German offtake of 140 aircraft.

The German Government, however, has been wrestling with its partners for months in an attempt to maintain a 30% share of the production.

An increase in the number of aircraft Germany will buy is a simple solution to the problem, but presents both budgetary problems and the problem of how R_he would put this to parliament without appearing to back down on his earlier decision to reduce the number of fighters for the air force from the original, pre-reorientation figure of 250.

Source: Flight International