Free and Open Indo-Pacific/FOIPPartnerships

European air forces joining Indo-Pacific defense exercises, signaling regional commitment

Gusty Da Costa

The air forces of France, Germany and Spain are headed to the Indo-Pacific in 2024 to participate in defense exercises and strengthen relations and interoperability with regional militaries. The deployments are also a demonstration to nations such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC) of Europe’s commitment to the region and support for freedom of navigation and other international norms.

Plans call for European military assets to participate in exercises throughout mid-2024, including eight German and four Spanish Eurofighter aircraft; 12 German Tornado jet fighters; six French Rafale fighters; four German and four French-Spanish Airbus A400M Atlas transport aircraft; and various Airbus A330 MRTT aerial refueling and transport aircraft.

German Air Force Eurofighter jets conduct an air interception exercise and air-to-air refueling while flying from Berlin to Keflavik, Iceland, for exercise Rapid Viking 2023.

Some of the contingent will participate in the United States Pacific Fleet’s biennial Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC), the world’s largest international maritime exercise. That will follow a stop in Japan for several days of operations with local aircrews, Defense News magazine reported in late November 2023. German Air Force assets are expected to join a German Navy ship in Hawaii for RIMPAC.

After participating in exercise Pitch Black in Australia, which kicks off in mid-July, European air assets are expected to visit Indonesia or Malaysia before concluding their deployments in India at the multinational exercise Tarang Shakti.

The German Air Force participated in Pitch Black in 2022 but is expected to significantly increase its 2024 contingent. Even with Russia’s unprovoked war against Ukraine the focus of Europe’s security concerns, deployments to the Indo-Pacific demonstrate the European Union’s (EU) ongoing commitment to the region, according to German Air Force chief Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz.

“Especially now looking to the war in Ukraine, you cannot divide Europe from Asia, and you cannot divide the scenario we have looking to Russia with the scenario here in the Indo-Pacific,” Gerhartz told The Guardian newspaper in March 2023.

France, Germany and Spain are partners in the trilateral Future Combat Air System (FCAS), which envisions a “system-of-systems” approach that includes development of a next-generation fighter aircraft and unmanned air assets, with a connected network across all warfighting domains. According to European aerospace company Airbus, the FCAS is also a key instrument in developing and deepening Europe’s partnerships and dialogues with Indo-Pacific nations, as well as in addressing the region’s security challenges and opportunities.

In line with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, the project enables European partners to project power and deter aggression, while protecting shared interests and values, such as freedom of navigation, maritime security and human rights.

“In Indonesia, but also other Indo-Pacific countries, if we look from the point of view of air force technology, these three countries are very important,” Aleksius Jemadu, an international relations lecturer at Indonesia’s Pelita Harapan University, told FORUM. “France, Spain and Germany have certain advantages in the field of aerospace technology. They want countries in the Indo-Pacific, including Indonesia, to know about these capabilities and to further explore future cooperation for the benefit of both parties.”

Stronger defense ties with Indo-Pacific countries also benefit Europe, Jemadu said. European goods are shipped through the region’s waterways, thereby motivating those nations to cooperate with Indo-Pacific partners in promoting freedom of navigation and regional security.

“If you look at the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] Outlook on the Indo-Pacific, it prioritizes open, inclusive cooperation and utilizing resources from various countries, not just China, because if resources are monopolized by one power, it will lead to domination and hegemony,” he said.

Gusty Da Costa is a FORUM contributor reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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