The air assets of the German Armed Forces are in a even more deplorable state that before, and is becoming worse and worse. Helicopters, transport aircraft and combat jets are spending so much time on the ground that it hurts the defence capabilities of one of Europe’s biggest countries way too much. Many aircraft are not available for any duties they are so needed for, at home or with the 13 deployments abroad, including the “flashy” new Airbus A400Ms.
“The German airlift capabilities have become so weak that days of delays and cancellations of (planned) flights into and from areas of deployment are almost a normality,” Bartels says. “The status of materiel is equally bad and in many occasions even worse than during my first inspection visit in 2015. At the end of last year not a single of the 14 newly commissioned A400M transport aircraft was available. Eurofighter, Tornado, Transall, CH-53, Tiger, NH90 … the flying units rightfully complain they fail in having the appropriate flight hours for their crews because too many machines too many days a year are not ready to fly.”
Even the operation platforms of the German Navy helicopter fleet of Westland Sea Lynxes and in the future NH90 Sea Lion are far less than the German Ministry of Defence has promised to be available. Of the planned 15 frigates only 9 are in use and even they are often not able to sail with longer maintenance times in the shipyard for the aging vessels. Of the 220,000 job positions in the German Armed Forces, a massive 21,000 are vacant. Many troops lack winter uniforms or flack jackets.
Neuburg Airbase, situated in the Bavarian region in southern Germany, is home to the German Luftwaffe’s JG74, flying the Eurofighter EF2000 (Typhoon) in the air defense role since 2006. This November Airheadsfly.com met them when they returned home to Neuberg after a long stay elsewhere.
For a considerable time, JG74 (Taktisches Luftwaffengeschwader, or Tactical Air Force Wing) had to call other airbases ‘home’ while the runway at Neuburg saw complete renewal. What was planned to be a nine month stay, turned out to be close to two years. This was caused by a few dozen World War II bombs found during the work.
During Airheadsfly.com’s visit, the return to Neuburg hadn’t been fully completed, as some Eurofighters – the Typhoon name was never adopted in Germany – were left behind for maintenance at Lechfeld, the airbase that served as the main home away from home.
JG74 is fully dedicated to air defense und Alarmrotte, which could well do with some explanation for non-native speakers. Alarmrotte (literally: red alert) is the German term for Quick Reaction Alert (QRA), which applies here because JG74 is responsible for guarding the skies over southern Germany. It’s not a recent thing by any standards. In fact, they have been doing it at Neuburg since May 1961. So next year sees the 55th anniversary of QRA duties at the Bavarian airbase.
Where now Eurofighters stand guard, F-4 Phantoms stood until not too long ago. Between 2006 and 2008 and after more than 30 years of service, JG74 replaced its Spooks for brand spankin’ new Eurofighters. Since 2013, the wing is a proud member of NATO’s Tiger Association. They took over the tradition from JBG32 (Jagdbombgeschwader, or bomber squadron), which flew the Panavia Tornado from Lechfeld until disbanded in 2012.
JG74 has 33 jets assigned, of which 24 are available at Neuburg. This year, the wing’s pilots and crews participated in large scale exercise Arctic Challenge in Norway, but they also did the “real thing” by supporting NATO’s Baltic Air Policing mission from Ämari airbase in Estonia. From there, German pilots in 2014 got to meet Russian pilots up close, albeit always thousands of feet up in the air and each in the cockpit of their respective aircraft.
At Neuburg they are pretty confident with the Eurofighter, the jet that saw Germany at it’s cradle as one of the founding nations of the Eurofighter consortium. Christian Härter, taking care of the jets at Neuburg since 2013, thinks the Eurofighter is the best all round fighter at this moment. “The Eurofighter has an 8:1 kill ratio against a variety of other fighter aircraft. Even the US Air Force F-22 Raptor is having a hard time in many aspects against our aircraft.” In reality of course, the Eurofighter has yet to achieve a real kill against any type of aircraft.
Criticism aimed at Germany’s top toy can’t be ignored. This fall, deliveries of German aircraft were halted over a production fault found across the fleet. According to Härter however, Typhoons serviceability at Neuburg is around 70 percent, the proof perhaps being the presence of three jets inside the T-Halle, a hangar that can house up to 6 aircraft. In the eight year old T-Halle, maintenance is being performed in more favourable conditions than in the hardened aircraft shelters that litter Neuburg. The T-Halle gets a lot of natural light from outside, which makes work very comfortable.
Flight hour costs
The presence of the many data cables and computers in the T-Halle clearly shows we’re dealing with a modern aircraft. As the computer/software is getting more and more important, Härter even expects the Eurofighter could well be the last manned aircraft of the Luftwaffe. One flight hour in a Eurofighter costs around 65,000 euro, of which fuel accounts for ‘only’ 6,000 euro. Therefore it might not come as a surprise that every pilot flies 40 hours on a Typhoon flight simulator each year. Aircraft like the Alenia Aermacchi M-346 are more and more being marketed as operational trainers, saving costly flying hours.
But on this beautiful day in November, pilots elect to fly for real. Up to seven Eurofighters roar into the skies in preparation for yet another busy year. For JG74, next year will see participation in the NATO Tiger Meet in May at Zaragoza airbase in Spain, while June will see an airshow at Neuburg because of the 55th anniversary of JG74. There might be even another tour of Baltic Air Policing, offering Russian pilots one more chance at the experience of meeting a Eurofighter up close – and be aware of a kill ratio that apparently stands at 8:1.
Kuwait has bilaterally agreed to buy 28 Alenia Aermacchi made Eurofighter Typhoons in a competition that apparently left the Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet defeated. The news came to light on Friday 11 September in Italy.
According to press agency Reuters, the deal is worth 7.5 billion EUR and a contract is to be signed within weeks. The deal is very good news for Eurofighter, which had a hard time selling the Typhoon to other nations other than founding partners Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK. Austria and Saudi Arabia and, in the future, Oman, are the only other nations flying the Typhoon. Eurofighter later on Friday said it ‘welcomes the agreement between Italy and Kuwait for the supply of 28 Eurofighter Typhoons’.
The order reportedly consists of 22 single seat and six two seat aircraft. The Kuwaiti Typhoons are to be manufactured in Alenia Aermacchi’s facility in Turin, where up until now only jets for the Italian Air Force were built, plus left wings for all Typhoons in existence.
Kuwait Air Force pilots have been getting flight training in Italy for some time, also flying Alenia Aermacchi-made aircraft. At Lecce airbase in southern Italy, the learn basic and advanced fighter jet techniques, using the Alenia Aermacchi MB-339.
For over two decades, Kuwait has been flying the Boeing F/A-18C/D Hornet. These aircraft were hastily delivered after the 1991 Gulf War. For Boeing, the Kuwaiti choice could see the end of F/A-18E/F production. The US company was aiming at a Kuwaiti order to keep production going after completing current US and Australian orders.
NATO is cutting down on its Baltic Air Policing involvement. The detachment of four Belgian Air Component F-16s at Malbork Airbase in Poland has already left, leaving the air defence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in the hands of only twelve and soon only eight fighters on two in stead of three different airbases.
The diminishing of the air combat force has been acknowledged by the ministries of defence in the Baltic republics.
As of September the Hungarian Air Force will base four of its 12 operational SAAB JAS 39C/D Gripen jets on Šiauliai Air Base in Lithuania, while the German Air Force will fly four of its Eurofighter EF2000s (Typhoon) from Ämari Air Base in Estonia.
Until a week ago NATO had sixteen fighter jets committed to its Baltic flank, with the Belgian detachment in Poland and Italian Air Force and Royal Air Force EF2000 Typhoons being lead by the Royal Norwegian Air Force with four Lockheed Martin F-16AM/BM Fighting Falcons.
The move to cut the force by 50 percent is controversial and has probably a cost-saving background, as Russian military air activity in the region stays at a decade high. However, Poland retains one of its own MiG-29 Fulcrum air defence fighter units at Malbork, so some back-up is available. NATO members Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania don’t have any fighter jets of their own.
The deployment in Lithuania puts an extra strain on the Hungarian Air Force, which had two Gripen crashes lately likely because of mistakes might by their crews. (Check our newstream!)
The Royal Air Force is quietly planning to keep its aging Tornado fighter jets even longer than already envisaged. By 2019 the RAF is set to take its last of 87 operational Panavia variable sweep-wing aircraft out of service, as well as the first version (read: less-capable) of 53 Eurofighter Typhoons. Counting in all other factors the United Kingdom will end up very short-handed with at times only 60 combat jets ready.
With an increasing military threat from Russia as well as other international commitments like fighting the so-called Islamic State forces in Iraq and Syria (Operation Inherent Resolve), the United Kingdom is in need for a capable combat force more than a decade ago.
Yet the country’s military leadership – as well as military analists – worry how the RAF is able to defend the country and perform its international duties with in theory roughly more than 112 fighter jets by 2020. Since it takes a decade to build up a military force, various RAF planners are trying to find a way to cope with the future, because even that number of 112 does not reflect the coming real-life situation.
In less than five years from now the United Kingdom will have the least number of fighter jets to fly into combat ever, while the need of them has not been as high as since the 1982 Falklands War. With its usual detachment of four Typhoons at RAF Mount Pleasant there and likely a number of aircraft permanently based in the US for pilot training, the RAF will by 2020 in theory have about 100 aircraft “free to use” left. Take out 30 to 50 percent due to maintenance and lack of spare parts and Britain’s hope in dark days is down to about 50 to 60 Eurofighter Typhoons of Trance 2 and 3, which hopefully by then are upgraded enough to fulfill all that is asked from them.
Those tasks – for a fighter jet designed to patrol the skies and engage enemy aircraft, not ground targets – will include giving air defence to the nation, supporting British ground forces at home and abroad, give future British fighter jocks the necessary training, providing air strike capability to combat ISIS, support fighterless fellow NATO nations as Iceland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania with deterrence power and fly air coverage for the Royal Navy ships and vessels.
That maritime coverage will include the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, unless Britain can get the US Marine Corps to help them out with some fighter coverage. The RAF/Royal Navy’s own 14 Lockheed Martin F-35B Lightning II stealthy combat jets to operate from the HMS Queen Elizabeth are not expected to have any limited operational capability until 2021. Airheadsfly.com already reported on this issue in November last year.
Also last year the UK government decided to keep the RAF’s No. 2 Tornado squadron longer on strength, since the country simply lacked the capabilities to bomb ISIS. London might have to do that for more squadrons in the future if it wants to stay feeling safe.