In 1937, the German Ministry of Aviation issued a specification for a short-range, three-seat reconnaissance aircraft with a good all-round view to support the German army in the field, replacing the Henschel Hs 126, which had just entered service. A power of about 850–900 hp (630–670 kW) was specified. The specification was issued to Arado and Focke-Wulf. Arado's design, the Ar 198, which was initially the preferred option, was a relatively conventional single-engined high-wing monoplane with a glazed gondola under the fuselage. Focke-Wulf's chief designer Kurt Tank's design, the Fw 189, was a twin-boom design, powered by two Argus As 410 engines rather than the expected single engine and a central crew gondola designed with a heavily glazed and framed "stepless" cockpit forward section, which used no separate windscreen panels for the pilot (as with many German medium bombers), while Blohm & Voss proposed as a private venture something even more radical: chief designer Dr. Richard Vogt's unique asymmetric BV 141. Orders were placed for three prototypes each of the Arado and Focke-Wulf designs in April 1937.
The Fw 189 was produced in large numbers, at the Focke-Wulf factory in Bremen, at the Bordeaux-Merignac aircraft factory (now the Dassault Mirage plant) in occupied France, then in the Aero Vodochody aircraft factory in Prague, occupied Czechoslovakia. Total production was 864 aircraft of all variants.
The main production model was the Fw 189A reconnaissance plane, built mostly in two variants, the A-1 and A-2. Unless otherwise stated all aircraft were powered by two Argus As 410 engines of 465 PS (459 hp, 342 kW).
- Fw 189 A-0: 10 pre-production aircraft for operational tests and trials.
- Fw 189 A-1: Initial production version, armed with two flexible 7.92 mm (.312 in) MG 15 machine guns in the dorsal and rear positions, one 7.92 mm (0.312 in) MG 17 machine gun in each wing root, plus four 50 kg (110 lb) bombs. It could carry an Rb 20/30 or an Rb 50/30.
- Fw 189 A-1 trop: Tropicalised version of the Fw 189 A-1, fitted with air intake filters and survival equipment. Conversion from A-1s.
- Fw 189 A-1/U2: VIP transport version of the Fw 189 A-1.
- Fw 189 A-1/U3: VIP transport version of the Fw 189 A-1.
- Fw 189 A-2: The flexible MG 15s were replaced by twin-barrel 7.92 mm (0.312 in) MG 81Z.
- Fw 189 A-3: Tropicalised production version of the Fw 189 A-2, fitted with air intake filters and survival equipment.
- Fw 189 A-4: Light ground-attack version, armed with two 20 mm MG 151/20 cannons in each wing root, fitted with armour protection for the underside of the fuselage, engines and fuel tanks. No production known.
The Fw 189B was a five-seat training aircraft; only 13 were built.
- Fw 189 B-0: Three pre-production aircraft.
- Fw 189 B-1: Five-seat training version. 10 built.
The Fw 189C was conceived as a heavily armoured ground-attack, close-support variant, in competition with the Henschel Hs 129. But its two prototypes (V1b and V6) were not satisfactory, and it was not produced.
- Fw 189D: Proposed twin-float trainer floatplane. Not built.
- Fw 189E: Prototype only, powered by two 700 PS (690 hp, 515 kW) Gnome-Rhone 14M radial engines.
- Fw 189 F-1: Re-engined Fw 189 A-1 aircraft, powered by two 600 PS (592 hp, 441 kW) Argus As 411 engines.
- Fw 189 F-2: Fitted with electrically-operated landing gear, increased fuel capacity and additional armour plating, powered by two 600 PS (592 hp, 441 kW) Argus As 411 engines.