UPDATE 1-Germany favors Eurofighter as it seeks to replace Tornado

(Adds details, background)

BERLIN, Dec 11 (Reuters) - The German Defence Ministry said on Monday that the European fighter jet was the leading candidate to replace its Tornado jets, which it wants to start phasing out in 2025.

The ministry's position appears to contradict that of the German air force, whose chief indicated last month that he preferred Lockheed Martin's F-35, which meets the military's requirements of stealth and long-distance operational capabilities.

In a letter to a Greens lawmaker who had inquired about the deliberations, the ministry said the F-35 and Boeing's F-15 and F-18 fighters were secondary options.

"The indicated view of the inspector of the air force that the F-35 Lightning II is an especially suitable successor to the Tornado system is not the position of the federal government," Deputy Defence Minister Ralf Brauksiepe wrote in the letter.

The Eurofighter Typhoon is a joint project between British defense group BAE, France's Airbus and Italy's Finmeccanica.

The ministry's preference for the Typhoon is no surprise; France and Germany said earlier this year they would work together to develop a new European fighter, as they expand cooperation on defense and security.

Many German allies in Europe, including Norway, the Netherlands, Britain, Italy, Turkey and Denmark have selected the F-35 and some have received initial deliveries. Belgium is expected to make a decision next year.

The contract to replace Germany's 85 Tornado jets, which go out of service around 2030, could be worth billions of euros.

A new fighter purchase would have to be approved by parliament in the next two years and a contract signed by 2020 or 2021 to ensure deliveries by 2025. No final decision is likely before a new government is formed, following elections this past September.

Chancellor Angela Merkel will open talks on Wednesday with the Social Democrats (SPD) on renewing their alliance, which has ruled Germany since 2013. She turned to the SPD after efforts to form a coalition with the environmentalist Greens and the pro-business Free Democrats failed. (Writing by Joseph Nasr, editing by Larry King)