Planning and executing a “first” in the history of the German Air Force
12,800 kilometres in 24 hours from Germany to Singapore, deployment of 6 Eurofighter, 4 A400M and three A330 MRTT and 250 service members to Australia.
These impressive facts and figures stand for Operation Rapid Pacific 2022 of the German Air Force – the first-ever deployment with an “all Airbus” fleet of aircraft to participate in a large-scale military exercise with Australia and other international partner nations.
The journey was and is split into several parts: Part one, being the Luftwaffe’s core objective, was to demonstrate global deployability to a region of strategic importance, the Indo-Pacific.
On 15 August, six Eurofighter jets departed Neuburg Air Base in the south of Germany, escorted by three A330 MRTT aircraft of the Multinational Multirole Tanker Transport Unit, a joint unit from Eindhoven, Netherlands and Cologne, Germany, pooling and sharing aerial refueling, air transport and, in the near future, strategic aeromedical evacuation capabilities for several members of the Atlantic Alliance.
Less than 24 hours later, five Eurofighter jets and the three A330 MRTT reached Singapore. A sixth one had to temporarily stay in Abu Dhabi for repairs due to problems with its hydraulic systems.
Nevertheless, the Luftwaffe had accomplished its mission: “We are here. We made it to Asia within 24 hours and that, for the first time, with this amount of aircraft”, a proud and relieved LtGen Ingo Gerhartz, German Air Force chief, told media representatives upon arrival of the crews in Singapore.
Col. Gordon Schnitger, Commander of the 74th Fighter Wing in Neuburg, who deployed the bulk of people and material for the fighter jet component of Rapid Pacific, echoed this sentiment.
“The moment we realised that all the planning and hard work of the last months, at least for that stage of the deployment, had paid off was when the five jets landed in Singapore.”
Mastering that challenge wasn't a walk in the park for the 74th since it was only a few months ago that Neuburg had completed an exhausting NATO Air Policing mission in Romania.
“Looking at what we accomplished this year so far, my hat’s off to my men and women in Neuburg, but also to those units like the A330MRTT and A400M crews who supported us all the way here. Their determination shows what we can achieve together when we pull on the same string.”
The hot phase of the planning on key working levels, said Schnittger, began roughly six months ago with regular alignment meetings. Two months ahead of the deployment, weekly calls followed which eventually turned into daily calls towards the very end.
Mapping the Game Plan, Aligning all Stakeholders
In Abu Dhabi, just as the deployment had reached its first destination, LtCol. Lorenz S., callsign “Enzo”, was mapping out the game plan for the second leg to Singapore.
“My main concern was about the personal fitness of each and every individual for this long flight from Abu Dhabi to Singapore”, said “Enzo”, Squadron Commander of the 741st Fighter Squadron and one of the flight leaders on this 7-hour trip. “Obviously, we had gotten to Abu Dhabi only shortly before and you then have to deal with a time difference compared to home. So we tried, as best as we could, to prepare for that scenario at home, for instance by going to bed a bit earlier in order to be in the best shape possible.”
Rapid Pacific is his fourth largest deployment in his 24-year career in the German Air Force, said the experienced fighter pilot who has accumulated 3,300 flight hours in aircraft such as the Eurofighter, Tornado and the F-16.
And it wasn't the easiest one.
“We basically had thunderstorms all the way which made the flight quite a challenge. We flew over a country as huge as India without ever having seen the ground. Here, I really have to say kudos to the A330MRTT crew for a job very well done”, said “Enzo”. “They navigated us well around all those thunderstorms. One hour before Singapore, the weather finally started to improve which was a bit of a relief.”
The LtCol. hailed the cooperation with professionalism of the tanker crews from the Multinational Multi-Role Tanker Transport Unit (MMU) in Eindhoven.
“We sat down with them shortly before the mission to explain some of the limits we have and it was quite obvious they had given careful consideration to all those requirements. I felt very confident the entire time that we could fulfill our objectives”, said “Enzo”.
Rapid Pacific – the baptism of fire for the A330 MMU
In that regard, Rapid Pacific 2022 was also the first large-scale deployment of the MMU with their new A330MRTTs.
From the three A330MRTT, two aircraft flew in formation with a distance of half a mile and 500 feet vertical separation.
“The aim was to have this separation in height due to safety considerations when you’re refueling the jets. It’s important to keep situational awareness of what is going on when the jets depart from the hose”, said Capt. Benedikt V. A., one of the co-pilots and a former C-160 Transall pilot.
The third A330 MRTT was trailing around 5 miles behind the two others and 4,000 feet higher.
“That was our ‘airborne spare’ aircraft since we wanted to have an alternative in case we needed it”, said Capt. Benedikt V. A.
The baseline plan for the trip foresaw a total fuel consumption of 400 kilograms per minute, he said. At a minimum level of 2.5 tonnes, the Eurofighter jets refueled and received between four and five tonnes of kerosene.
“That meant they were attached to the hose and drogue for around 8 minutes each time”, said LtCol. Marcel N., one of the aircraft commanders on the flight from Neuburg to Abu Dhabi and a former A310 Tanker pilot.
On their way from Neuburg to Abu Dhabi, the Eurofighter jets refueled four times; from Abu Dhabi to Singapore six times and three times on the final stretch from Singapore to Darwin.
Both tanker pilots said that Air Traffic Control played a central part in the mission’s success.
“The support we received from the controllers in Abu Dhabi, Singapore and also Australia was exceptional. They really helped us to find the best routes in order to fulfill our mission objective. Especially on the leg between Singapore and Australia, you realise that ATC seems to be in contact with tanker crews more often since they were really knowledgeable with respect to our requirements”, said LtCol. Marcel N.
Pitch Black and Kakadu exercises
After successful repair, the sixth jet with the “Air Ambassador” special livery rejoined the formation only a few days later in Darwin, Australia, where part 2 of the journey is currently taking place.
There, the Luftwaffe and the MMU are part of Exercise Pitch Black 2022, a biennial three-week multinational large force employment exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF).
According to information provided by the RAAF, some 100 aircraft and 2,500 service personnel from the United States, Australia, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Singapore, Japan, Republic of Korea, UK, the Philippines, Thailand, UAE, Canada, Malaysia, New Zealand and the MMU will participate in Pitch Black.
After the first days of flying during exercise Rapid Pacific, Col. Schnitger said he's thankful that he has all six jets available and that training operations have started.
“The Australians are very professional as hosts and very eager to support us in any way possible with what we need. I just completed my first orientation ride here and have to say it`s amazing. The environment here is so different to what we are used to in Germany so we`re all looking forward to the next two weeks to train together with our partners.”
Upon conclusion of Exercise Pitch Black, the Luftwaffe contingent, as well as the MMU, will further participate in Exercise Kakadu 2022 in September, an exercise hosted by the Royal Australian Navy.
Once the exercises down under have concluded, the Luftwaffe and MMU contingent will return to Singapore where the team will – after some flying with the local contenders - split into two parts. One group will fly several Eurofighter jets, a formation led by Lt.Gen. Gerhartz, to Japan with the support of one A330 MRTT, while another group will embark on a journey with an A400M to the Republic of South Korea.
In early October, the team will bid farewell to the Indo-Pacific and return to their home bases - hopefully, with a logbook filled with many firsts and successful achievements.