COLOGNE, Germany — The German air force is planning an exercise tour through the Asia-Pacific region in 2024, accompanied by aircraft from France and Spain, the partners in the trinational Future Combat Air System, according to defense officials.
The weekslong deployment next summer, which also involves at least one German navy ship, follows Berlin’s logic that Germany must help stabilize an economically important region as China looks to grow its influence.
“We recognize that the region’s interests touch on ours, at least, or even are the same as ours,” Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Nov. 16 at event in Berlin organized by the Women in International Security network. “We are coming to stay.”
Also part of the government’s calculus is that any German engagement on the other side of the globe will save the United States from having to get involved there, freeing up American forces to remain focused on Europe, Pistorius added. “You can see the cascading effect.”
Next year’s deployment of aircraft will be “much, much bigger” than the air force’s initial foray to the Asia-Pacific region in 2022, service chief Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz said in an interview. That deployment aimed to prove that a smattering of aircraft — six Eurofighters, four A400M multirole aircraft and three A330 tankers — could reach Singapore in 24 hours and join various training activities from there.
The upcoming trip will take the opposite direction, flying across the north Atlantic to Alaska for a first stop. According to Gerhartz, the idea is to show up in the region with a “European face,” consisting of the three FCAS partner nations and possibly also involving aircraft from the U.K. and Italy along the way.
Air National Guard Director Lt Gen. Michael Loh, whose pilots will train with German counterparts during the Arctic Defender drill in July, lauded the Europeans’ exercise plans. “It is critically important that Europe comes over to the Pacific to show interoperability and support with the U.S. and other members of the region,” he said in an interview.
As of last month, the following contingent of European warplanes was set to partake in various drill elements during the summer: eight German and four Spanish Eurofighters, 12 German Tornados, six French Rafales, four German and four French-Spanish A400Ms, and four German and three A330s, according to a Luftwaffe briefing slide.
Parts of the formation will aim to participate in the Hawaii-based Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise in late July, following a pit stop in Japan for a few days of what the German air service dubs “local flying” with Japanese crews there, the slide states. While in Hawaii, the German air force aims to rendezvous with a Germany Navy frigate, the plan goes.
Next on the calendar is exercise Pitch Black in Australia in late July, followed by a stop either in Indonesia or Malaysia before ending the deployment in India, a country defense and foreign policy leaders in Berlin have been eying as a particular anchor in the region.
In India, the European contingent will aim to partake in the country’s international Tarang Shakti exercise, if the timing works out, or perform “local flying” activities outside of that drill, according to the Luftwaffe.
Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.