The German Luftwaffe deployed combat aircraft to Australia for the very first time in late August, to participate in the multi-lateral Pitch Black air combat exercise.
Six Eurofighters from Tactical Fighter Wing 74 (TaktLwG 74) at Neuburg in Bavaria were supported on their journey to Australia, via Abu Dhabi and Singapore, by a Luftwaffe Airbus A400M and a number of NATO Multinational and Multi-role Tanker & Transport Fleet (MMF) Airbus MRTT tankers – one of which remained in Australia for the exercise.
Together with four similar Typhoon FGR.4 aircraft, from the Royal Air Force, the six German fighters also represented the European fighter’s debut at the exercise. One aircraft has painted in special markings as the Luftwaffe’s ‘Air Ambassador' for the deployment.
TaktLwG 74’s Technical Operations Officer Captain Dirk Pretzer said the initial mission was to deploy the six aircraft from Neuburg to Singapore within 24 hours – and five of the jets made the journey in 20 hours and 22 minutes. The sixth aircraft – the ‘Air Ambassador’ – had developed a fault in Abu Dhabi and completed the deployment to Darwin later than its compatriots.
Logistics planning for the deployment was carried out in conjunction with Airbus and included no fewer than 56 shipping containers of spare parts and ground equipment, which had been pre-positioned in Darwin by sea.
“Our serviceability is very good. As with every type of fighter aircraft there are some problems – it isn’t the same as an airliner, which flies hundreds of thousands of miles without any malfunction,” CAPT Pretzer said. “But I think the weather conditions are good for fighter aircraft here in Darwin. The temperature is not too hot, like the UAE which was around 40 or 45 degrees Celsius. Here it’s normally around 30 degrees and that’s the same as in Europe at this time and with 40-50 per cent here I think it's very good for our aircraft.”
The six aircraft at Pitch Black were all to the latest Tranche 2 standard, capable of operating in both air to air and air to ground roles. Sorties were planned on a four-turn-four basis and saw the Eurofighters dividing their time between Red Air and Blue Air.
A member of the mission planning team for the German contingent at Pitch Black, Captain “Christoph”, said that while the aircraft were drawn from TaktLwG 74, their pilots came from across the Luftwaffe’s Eurofighter Wings to broaden the experience.
“The big advantage of a big exercise [like Pitch Black] is that there are many aircraft here,” he explained. “So, you can see how different airframes perform and for sure we’ll look at the F-35, but we can do that in Europe as well. So, just the combination of all participating aircraft is especially interesting here.”
Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) was initially intended to be performed by the MMF MRTT but the emergency landing of another Air Force’s F-16 on the first day of Pitch Black which blocked the runway, saw the Luftwaffe jets tanking with the Republic of Singapore Air Force’s similar MRTT.
Following Pitch Black the Luftwaffe rotated a number of personnel home and their replacements and the six Eurofighters remained in Darwin to participate in Exercise Kakadu.
At the conclusion of Kakadu, all six aircraft will depart to Singapore, where the fleet will be divided and three aircraft will continue to Japan, to exercise with the Japan Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) at Hyakuri Air Base, north of Tokyo.