Germany, US plan major air exercise to defend Europe

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NEUBURG AIR BASE, Germany – Two Eurofighter jets belonging to the German Air Force descended on the runway on a perfectly autumnal October morning at Neuburg Air Base, about 60 miles north of Munich. One was piloted by the service’s senior military officer, Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz, while the other carried the director of the US Air National Guard, Lt. Gen. Michael Loh.

The plane spent about an hour above the clouds in German airspace, as Gerhartz wanted to demonstrate some of the capabilities of the “fourth generation and up” Eurofighter to his American colleague. But the visit also served as the kick-off for the two air force chiefs to start planning a major new air-to-air exercise, which will take place in Europe in two years.

The event, dubbed Air Defender 2023, will be a “transatlantic reinforcement” of NATO allies and partners, Gerhartz and Loh said in an interview with Defense News after their flight to Neuburg, home to the 74th Force Wing. tactical air force of the Luftwaffe.

Dubbed the ‘original idea’ of Gerhartz by Loh, Air Defender 2023 will be a two-week exercise based on the European theater. The German Air Force wants to use all national military airfields available in the exercise, to exercise its role as a “strategic hub for collective defense,” Gerhartz said. The airspaces and aerodromes of certain partner countries will also be used.

Although it is still early in the planning process, the idea is for Germany to be the “center” of the exercise, and then participants will engage in instant exercises in areas such as the Baltic Sea or the southern region of Europe, he added.

The exercise, which he compared to the U.S. military-led exercise Defender Europe, will help allies hone the interoperability between their assets, test their command and control (C2) structures, and interact with various intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), space, and cyber capabilities.

A myriad of platforms will be integrated into Air Defender. Loh said he expects the United States to contribute “to everything from air transport to supporting tankers, fighters, including fifth generation fighters … [plus] everything from space and cybernetic capabilities to the bottom.

As it stands, however, remotely piloted airplanes should not be used. The Luftwaffe does not currently have the airspace structure to integrate RPAs into the exercise, a spokesperson told Defense News in an email.

Air officials from both nations are currently in talks with their allied counterparts to determine who else will join the exercise and what capabilities they can bring to theater. The focus will be on the United States, as well as NATO’s Allied Air Command partners, as well as other countries in Europe, the German Air Force confirmed.

The US Air National Guard can play an important role in recruiting other countries through its state partnership program, Loh noted. The program links a state’s National Guard units to 89 countries around the world, 23 of which are based in Europe.

The United States and the armies of its allies are moving away from the decades-long wars in the Middle East, and the focus is now again on Europe amid mounting tensions with Russia.

The war in Afghanistan “had been on our minds for decades,” said Gerhartz. But since Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, relations between Moscow and NATO member and allied countries have continued to deteriorate, leading to a breakdown in diplomatic relations between the alliance and Russia. in October.

“Now we’re thinking a lot more about Section 5 operations,” Gerhartz said.

Loh added: “It’s time to come back [to Europe] and get more exercise here.

The deployment would allow the Guard’s strategic reserve forces to deploy to a new theater of operations after decades of mainly stationed in the Middle East, he added. “I need them to start thinking more [about] our stimulus threats – China, Russia – and try to bring them up to those standards. … What does it mean to be under the NATO command and control structure, and how do we actually operate inside NATO? “

As the mission’s priorities shift away from counterterrorism operations and turn to major power competition, the Allied military must revisit a plethora of skills, operational concepts and doctrines that were fostered during the Cold War, Douglas said. Barrie, air warfare specialist at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

From the end of the Cold War to the 1990s and through to the 2010s, Russia’s defense spending essentially collapsed, Barrie told Defense News. After 2010, however, “you see renewed interest in modernization.”

“In terms of capability, the Russians now present a more credible air-to-air challenge than they certainly were in the 1990s and early 2000s,” he said. “So you can see why we are seeing a resurgence of activity on the allied side of the house to respond to this.”

Germany is urged to lead this effort to strengthen Allied partnerships through a major exercise, as Berlin has “a seat beside the ring to watch what the Russians have been up to,” noted Barrie.

“Traditionally in the past, since the end of the Cold War, the Germans have been rather conservative… in terms of the operations they got involved in,” he said. “It might be a little more forward-facing, but in that sense it’s almost certainly to be welcomed.”

Vivienne Machi is a journalist based in Stuttgart, Germany, who contributes to the European coverage of Defense News. She previously reported for National Defense magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named Best Young Defense Journalist at the Defense Media Awards in 2020.


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