The European Air Group and Shaping a 21st Century Template for Collaborative Air Operations


2014-11-27 By Robbin Laird

It is often stated that Western powers will not operate alone in future air operations.

But to say this, and to do this effectively are two very different issues.

EAG Logo

At the European Air Group at High Wycombe, seven key European Air Forces have set up an organization designed to enhance interoperability and collaborative operations in practical ways.

And it is no surprise that the EAG is thinking along similar lines with the coming of the F-35 to European Air Forces.

Even if a European Air Force is not flying an F-35, all will be affected by the redesign of air operations associated with the introduction of the F-35.

In a visit to the HQ of the European Air Group at High Wycombe in the United Kingdom, the Deputy Director of the EAG, Brigadier General Giacomo De Ponti, from the Italian Air Force, and the Chief of Staff, Col. Ron Hagemeijer from the RNLAF, discussed the role of the group and shaping a way ahead.

Deputy Director EAG


RAF Chief

Question: What is the role of the European Air Group?

BG De Ponti: It is the only multinational entity entirely devoted to airpower issues. And it includes the Air Forces of Spain, France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United Kingdom.

It is set up to be efficient. We have a small permanent staff, which is hosted by the Royal Air Force at High Wycombe. The staff works directly for the seven Air Chiefs and works directly as well with the staffs of those Air Forces.

Outside the HQ of the EAG from left to right are Col. Hagemeijer, COS of the EAG, Robbin Laird, BG De Ponti, Deputy Director of the EAG. November 19, 2014.
Outside the HQ of the EAG from left to right are Col. Hagemeijer, COS of the EAG, Robbin Laird, BG De Ponti, Deputy Director of the EAG. November 19, 2014. 

The EAG is led by a steering group composed of the seven air chiefs; and the permanent staff is run by the Deputy Director and the Chief of Staff, who in this case are the two persons with whom you are discussing the EAG.

Each Air Force provides three staff members and then we have a small administrative support staff.

It is designed to small and agile yet plugged into the operations of the seven Air Forces.

The head of the EAG is a sitting Air Chief, in this case Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford from the RAF. The Director, the Deputy Director and the COS serve normally for two years, and the staff provided by the Air Forces normally serves for three years.

Question: What is the focus of attention of the EAG?

BG De Ponti: The EAG tackles airpower issues, which need solutions to enhance interoperability among the member nations.

This can lead to tactical or strategic solutions.

And we have had important achievements to date such as the European Air Transport Command (EATC).

And the recent creation of the European Personnel Recovery Centre is an important step forward which the staff started the process, and went to the Chiefs and they approved going ahead, and then we worked more on the way ahead, and now we will see the Centre set up in Italy later this year.

And this Centre will combine military and civilian expertise and can well become a center of excellence for personnel recovery tasks, both military and civilian. And we are transferring our expertise in training in these areas to the new Centre which illustrates the way we work – we are not adding tasks for us to do and growing staff – we actually are transferring tasks when appropriate to a better placed mechanism.

Question: How does the EAG work?

BG De Ponti: The staff is small and designed to be agile and to operate up against a problem set. A frequent way we work is that the Chiefs meet once a year and provide taskings.

We then develop an initial picture of how the problem should be understood and then gain consensus on how to address the problem.

But the EAG is not simply the staff at High Wycombe.

Once the way ahead to deal with the problem is identified we work with the subject experts on the European Air Staffs to work through various solution sets.

We are focused on dealing with a 360 degree airpower domain, not just stovepipes so that we shape ways to work with the staffs in order to shape innovative synthetic solutions.

Indeed, we have restructured the staff away from having core domains of responsibility to working across domains to shape more innovative solutions.

In other words, we are not simply suggesting solutions we are engaged with those who will actually do the tasks so that an outcome will become operational.

And one must realize that although Europe is the location for this discussion we see a bigger stage and work with NATO, and the US as well.

Col. Hagemeijer: And a key effort in working through a subject is to determine who else is working the problem and to ensure that we are not simply duplicating efforts elsewhere.

We also can work both ways – from the Chiefs tasking us; to our own shaping of an important problem area which has been the case with regard to standing up of a European Personnel Recovery Centre.

To take the case of working the 4th-5th generation integration challenge, we are clearly focused on the multinational aspect of this challenge but we are very open to talking with other organizations in order not to duplicate work being done elsewhere, but we can also contribute to thinking through this challenge or opportunity on a multinational level.

Question: Working through ways to enhance interoperability and collaboration is also a way to ensure that money is being put on the way ahead and not simply investing in the past.

One does not need more horses, if tanks and aircraft are redefining warfare.

How do you see the aspect of thinking your way ahead and helping your countries invest wisely?

BG De Ponti: This is an important aspect of our potential contribution. In times of financial stringency, how do we get best value our of what we have, and as we have new capabilities how do we transform the legacy assets as well?

We will keep fourth generation aircraft operating for some time, but the F-35 is coming to European Air Forces.

How can the second enhance the capabilities of the first?

For an initial piece on the visit to the European Air Group see the following:

For the EAG Command brief see below:

And for additional EAG overview documents see the following:

EAG Overview


As a multinational organization thinking through the evolution of airpower, a key challenge and opportunity is to shape interoperability and convergent concepts of operations among a fleet of different types of aircraft.

In the slideshow above, some of these aircraft are highlighted.

In the first photo, Royal Netherlands Air Force Lt. Col. Marten “Jimi” Hendriksma, of Bergen op Zoom, the Netherlands, commander, Air Task Force-17, based out of Volkel of Airbase, the Netherlands, taxis down the flight line in an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter jet before conducting a mission from Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The Dutch air force conduced reconnaissance missions and provides close-air support to assist International Security Assistance Force elements throughout Afghanistan. 7/11/11

In the second photo, two German Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons wait to launch from the runway June 4, 2012, Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska. This was the first time the Typhoons have participated in RED FLAG-Alaska 12-2. The GAF arrived early to become familiarized with the airspace and prepare for RF-A. 6/4/12

In the third photo, a Russian Bear ‘H’ aircraft was photographed from an intercepting RAF Typhoon with another Typhoon tailing it on 29 October. The number of Eurofighter intercepts has gone up by a factor of three over the past few months. Credit: The Independent. A Spanish Typhoon is seen in flight in the fourth photo. Credit. Spanish MOD

A French A400m is seen at its Orleans base in the fifth photo. Credit: Murielle Delaporte.

A French Air Force C-135FR is seen refueling a RAAF A330 MRTT (KC-30A) in the sixth photo. Credit: Airbus Defence and Space.

In the seventh photo, an Italian tanker is seen in a refueling operation. Credit: Italian Air Force.

In the eighth photo, two C-130 Hercules from the Belgium air force’s 20 Squadron taxi on the flightline Feb. 2 after completing a mission in Red Flag 11-2. The C-130s deployed from Melsbroek Air Base, Belgium, to participate in the combined exercise that provides a realistic combat training environment to the U.S. and its allies. 2/2/11

In the ninth photo, a French Rafale fighter is seen in flight. Credit: FAF.

The 10th and 11th photos show UK F-35s in operation. Credit: Lockheed Martin.

And the 12th and 13th show the first two Dutch F-35s.  Credit: Lockheed Martin.

And the final photo shows an Italian Air Force Tornado taking off from Uvda Air Force Base, Israel, during the Blue Flag exercise Nov. 26, 2013. 11/26/13