The Return of Direct Defense in Europe: The Challenges for Germany


We have been looking at the strategic shift for the liberal democracies from a primary focus on the land wars in the Middle East to the challenge of dealing with crisis management involving peer competitors who can engage in force-on-force conflict.

We have done so both with regard to the Pacific and with regard to Europe.

We have focused on the UK, the Nordics and in this report shift our attention to Germany.

Based in part on recent interviews and meetings with German defense experts and former senior Bundeswehr officers, the report looks at the challenges facing Germany as it too addresses the direct defense challenge.



The Australian F-35 Decision and the German Tornado Replacement Decision

By Robbin Laird

Having just returned from my latest trip to Germany to discuss the significant challenge facing Germany in shaping a credible force to provide for its direct defense and to contribute effectively to NATO’s overall collective defense, it is clear that for the near to mid term the Tornado replacement decision is a significant indicator of the way ahead.

The German government has committed itself to work with France to launch a long-term project to build a new air combat systems approach which will include a new fighter for the 2040s.

That is a long way off and will not contribute in the short to medium term to the deterrent challenges being faced now.

And that is not providing for a Tornado replacement.

For the Luftwaffe, there are two elements in play, which can provide for near to mid term ways to reshape its capabilities to provide for a credible effort.

On the one hand, the government is proposing to build a new Eurofighter which they have dubbed Tranche IV to replace the Tranche I Eurofighters.

If they wish to do this, the shortest path to do so is to build on the Luftwaffe’s relationship with the RAF and with British industry and its engagement in Eurofighter to adopt the British innovations which are shaping a new Typhoon for the force, one clearly being redesigned to fly with the F-35.

If the gap between the UK and Germany created by Brexit and selected EU conflicts with Britain can not be attenuated to allow for Germany to work with the UK, there will be no short path to providing for the German Eurofighters transformation into an advanced Typhoon.

On the other hand, the Tornado replacement is pressing and carries with it many key tasks essential to direct defense.

One such task is the nuclear mission to shaping effective air ground integration.

Another key task is to be able to integrate with Patriot and MEADS to deliver movable joint fires solutions for the protection of Germany and its to be rebuilt logistics sites.

The importance of this latter task is critical.

Germany has committed itself to be the logistical hub of NATO for the movement of force through Germany to the nations East and North of it for collective defense.

And doing so is a near to mid-term task, not a long range one.

Options which have been or are being considered are the F-35, the German Eurofighter (which does not yet have an AESA radar) and the Super Hornet.

In 2014, the RAAF faced a key replacement aircraft decision when it was looking to move beyond the Super Hornet to a fifth generation solution.

The thinking which shaped that decision is very relevant to Germany or even more relevant to Germany because it is the center of any Russian action against Europe in a way that is not what the Aussies face from China or North Korea.

I wrote the report for the Williams Foundation in 2015 when the RAAF discussed in a public forum the nature of the turning point and why they believed that a transition to the F-35 was essential, not just for the RAAF but for the entire transformation of the Australian Defence Force.

A key strategic thinker who retired as an Air Vice Marshal of the RAAF and has remained a key player in the transformation effort is John Blackburn.

I decided to interview Blackburn about that turning point and his thoughts about why the transition was critical for the RAAF.

In that interview, he identified three key reasons he thought the transition was critical.

First, he took me back to the presentation of the RAAF F-22 pilot who spoke at the 2014 seminar and he compared his experiences with Super Hornet to the F-22.

The core point which the pilot made was that the fifth generation air system allowed for proactive planning and operations, compared to the largely reactive situation he was in with regard to Super Hornet.

In that briefing, the experienced combat pilot underscored that from the pilot’s perspective the data fusion in the aircraft left the pilot free to manage the flow of information and to focus on mission tactics.

From the perspective of the mission commander, he now had the ability to forward plan and allocate resources pre-emptively and had a much greater ability to think and plan ahead of the current engagement.

Second, the force commander without a fifth generation aircraft would be limited against a significant peer competitor and the need to operate in contested airspace to operating in lower or mid threat levels.

This meant that a nation without direct access to fifth generation capability would need to rely on others to provide for the capability to degrade the forces of the adversary in a high threat area.

Clearly, if a nation was directly facing a peer competitor which was shaping area denial capabilities this meant that they would have to ensure that an ally with such capabilities would show up and lead the air operations.

“The challenge of working with coalition partners who really are not making the transition is that they risk becoming speed bumps in the way of fifth-generation airpower coalition engaging a peer competitor.”

Third, he argued that even though the first two points were significant, the most compelling one was that “if you are focused on platform replacement in these conditions, you are asking the wrong question.

“The right question is how your fifth generation asset would drive transformation of the entire force whilst also integrating legacy capabilities.”

Put in other words, the introduction of the F-35 into the ADF is driving overall force transformation, without which one would be looking for single force modernization rather than multi-domain transformation.

From this point of view, the F-35 is a multi-domain not a multi-mission aircraft.

“Without the F-35, we would not be doing our Plan Jericho for the air force, or the kind of significant force integration efforts which we are currently undergoing in Australia.”

However, an important point to emphasise here is that the transformation is about much more than just the 5th Gen platforms.

As Blackburn wrote in a recent article in the Australian Defence Magazine: the issue faced by the Australian Defence Force (ADF) today is that existing communications and information networks were not “designed” as an integrated system and do not appear to be a good foundation upon which to build the 5th Generation Force the ADF is acquiring. 

Indeed, Blackburn came to Denmark in 2015 to co-host a conference on behalf of the Williams Foundation with the Copenhagen-based Centre for Military Studies.

And at that conference several European airpower leaders spoke and discussed how they viewed the airpower transition in Europe.

In his presentation to the conference, Blackburn focused on the transformation process, which had been launched driven in large part by the acquisition of the F-35.

And at that conference, Col. Anders Rex who is now chief of the Danish Air Force, highlighted the importance of coalition air operations for the Danish Air Force and for European collective defense.

Later as Chief of the Danish Air Force, with the F-35 decision behind them and with preparation for the coming of the F-35 to Denmark, he has made it clear why this is important for Denmark.

His comments in that interview highlighted a way ahead for European airpower transition.

The goal for our coalition and our alliance is to get the best out of what we have as a coalition force.  During Red Flag, the experiences we have been briefed on, fifth-generation aircraft make fourth-generation more lethal and survivable, and more effective.

“We could focus on the significant kill ratios which a fifth-generation aircraft can deliver. But that is not the sole focus. It is about how fifth generation aircraft lift the whole force so that the kill ratio for the entire force goes up exponentially.”

He emphasized the importance of combat learning associated with the new aircraft.

“When we were running our competition for a new fighter aircraft, I witnessed the operation of a Super Hornet F-squadron on the USS Nimitz carrier off the coast of San Diego.

“This was the latest variant of the Super Hornet which had just received a new AESA radar on it.

“And when we talked to the pilots, they made the point that there was no way they could have thought up or analyzed what they can use this radar for. Every single day they learned new things.

“That is how I see the kind of learning we are going to have operating the F-35 and more broadly the kind of co-learning which other platforms in the air, ground and naval forces will need to have as well to leverage what a fifth generation enabled force can bring to the fight.”

In effect, what Major General Rex was discussing was the opening of a significant aperture of co-learning, for example, in Danish terms, how the frigates can use their future SM-2s and SM-6s in conjunction with the SA and targeting capabilities which the F-35 would bring to the Danish force.

“Co-learning across the forces and the F-35 to the legacy platforms is a major challenge but a task which we need to master to get where we need to go as a Danish force, but even more significantly at the coalition level.”

And working with coalition partners who are not going to buy the F-35, Major General Rex underscored that the challenge was then “how do we elevate the effectiveness of those coalition partners?

“We need to focus on the broad co-learning challenge and how to elevate the combat force as a whole as the F-35 becomes a key force for change.”

In short, it is not simply a shift from one platform to another, and in the Danish case the shift is from the F-16 to an F-35; it is about what Air Vice-Marshal (Retired) Blackburn highlighted about overall force transformation and a significant step change in overall capabilities for the force.

The featured photo is credited here:

RAAF Wedgetail Returns Home from the Middle East


After drawing down the bulk of its engagement in their forces operating in the Middle East, the RAAF has rotated their advanced air battle management aircraft or their advanced tanker to the Middle East.

When we say advanced, were are referring with reference to the US or other allied air forces.

The RAAF E-7A Wedgetail Airborne Early Warning and Control aircraft has completed its final rotation as of early February 2019 in support of Operation Okra.

The air battlespace management aircraft has been conducting airborne surveillance operations in the airspace over Syria and Iraq as part of the coalition to defeat Daesh.

As part of Australia’s Air Task Group in the Middle East, the E-7A has provided control of the tactical movement of aircraft in a busy airspace with partners from the American, British, French and Italian air forces.

The Australian Defence Force will work alongside Coalition and NATO partners with future deployments of the KC-30 Multi-Role Tanker Transport Aircraft on a non-continuous basis.

The KC-30 Tanker will recommence air-to-air refuelling operations in the skies over Iraq and Syria later in 2019.

A Last Hurrah for RAAF Hornets at Red Flag

The Royal Australian Air Force has deployed a contingent of approximately 370 personnel to Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada for Exercise Red Flag 19-1, which took place from 22 January to 15 February 2019.

Up to 6 F/A-18A Hornet aircraft from Number 77 Squadron, an E-7A Wedgetail from Number 2 Squadron, an AP-3C (Electronic Warfare) Orion from Number 10 Squadron have been deployed on the complex, multi-nation exercise.

Personnel will also be operating a Task Group Headquarters; augmenting the Combined Air Operations Centre, Cyber capabilities; and establish a Control and Reporting Centre.

Established in 1975 as an internal exercise by the United States Air Force, Exercise Red Flag centres on the world’s most complex reconstruction of a modern battlespace and is recognised as one of the world’s premier air combat exercises. Red Flag 19-1 also involves participants from the United States Navy as well as the Royal Air Force.

Training alongside allied nations is critical to the success of Air Force units on real world operations; helping develop further familiarity with foreign terminology, methods and platforms.

With the drawdown of classic Hornet operations expected to commence this year and RAAF classic and Super Hornet/Growler rotations to the exercise usually conducted on alternate years, Red Flag 19-1 will likely be the final Red Flag for the RAAF F/A-18A/B Hornet.

Photos Credited to the RAAF.


An Update on the Australian C-130J: Plan Jericho and Related Developments

A range of upgrades and modifications have been fitted under Plan Jericho to Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) C-130J Hercules A97-448, providing the RAAF’s Air Mobility Group with a ‘Jericho Demonstrator’ to explore how it will provide air mobility as part of a Fifth-Generation Air Force.

Upgrades include the installation of a Ka-Band Satellite Communications (SATCOM) antenna, external fuel tanks (taking total fuel capacity from 19 to 27 tons) to increase range/loiter and fuel offload; and other advancements to crew awareness and survivability.

Air Mobility Group will use the Jericho Demonstrator in support of other Defence and Government agencies to determine how to increase the utility of its Hercules fleet in the future.

In addition the RAAF is evaluating adding Litening AT pods to its C-130Js as well.

According to an article by Andrew McLaughlin published on February 6, 2019 in Australian Defence Business Review:

The RAAF is reportedly looking to integrate the Northrop Grumman AN/AAQ-28 Litening AT targeting and EO/IR pod with its fleet of 12 C-130J Hercules airlifters.

A 189th Airlift Wing C-130H is mounted with a Northrop Grumman LITENING pod targeting system as part of an Air National Guard Air Force Reserve Test Center program to develop a highly-accurate air drop and reconnaissance system. The Arkansas Air National Guard unit has been tapped as a test bed and has sent aircraft, aircrews and maintainers to Arizona for the test program.

With the retirement of the F/A-18A/B classic Hornet by 2022, the RAAF will have about 40 Litening AT pods in its inventory.

The pods were acquired for the classic Hornet fleet in 2008 under the Project AIR 5376 Phase 2.4 element of the Hornet Upgrade Program (HUG) to replace the AN/AAS-38 NITEHawk pod….

The addition of an EO/IR pod such as the Litening AT would enhance the C-130J’s ability to provide ISR overwatch for forces on the ground, to ensure a designated landing or extraction zone is clear of threats, to geolocate targets of interest or precision airdrop locations, or to even provide fires support to off-board shooters. For peacetime missions, a high-performance EO/IR pod could provide accurate imagery and data to support the HADR or search and rescue roles…..




The Challenge Facing a German Reset on Direct Defense: The Perspective of Lt. General (Retired) Klaus-Peter Stieglitz

By Robbin Laird

I first had the opportunity to meet Lt. General (Retired) Klaus-Peter Stieglitz, a former German Air Chief, last Fall in Berlin at the International Fighter Conference.

During my visit to Germany in February 2019, where I was continuing my look at the challenge of building a 21st century approach to the direct defense of Europe, I had a chance to meet with him again, this time in Bonn, to discuss the challenges facing a German reset on direct defense.

According to Stieglitz: “The strategic environment has changed and requires Germany, a nation in the heart of Europe with more than 80 million people, to pay it’s fair share for the collective defense and to shape and focus on a force appropriate to the new situation.

“Obviously, the new defense effort requires more money.

“This is starting to happen.

“But we are facing a significant rebuild given the state of readiness of the force today and the need to repair that force.

“Just undertaking the repair of todays state of readiness will make the Bundeswehr a construction site for the next years.”

“We are almost back to 1955 when we had to build a new Bundeswehr.

“Our rebuild for the new strategic environment today is as significant as during these early years of the Bundeswehr.

“And all that happens after decades enjoying a peace dividend, where savings certainly have not been spent within the Bundeswehr.”

“But money alone is not enough.

“We are talking about changing the focus and building a 21st century defense force which can play its role at the heart of Europe.

“We are no longer talking about defense at the inner-German border or supporting out of area operations; we are talking about providing an umbrella for new allies who wish to see that NATO has a credible defense strategy and deterrence capability.

” Germany needs to focus on this challenge and build the appropriate force.”

He highlighted further that rebuilding the territorial defense is a key priority so that Germany could operate as a key operational reserve for NATO forces and to ensure that an adequate financial support could correct the current situation where i.e. pilots are waiting two years to get their first fighter cockpit after they finished their basic training.

“We Germans asked our allies for decades during the Cold War period to show their solidarity and to join in on the defense of Germany.

“They did this.

“Now we need to pay that back.”

The General also highlighted a key point which cannot be overlooked by the critics of NATO – the NATO military has worked effectively together and shaped common procedures and standards.

This commonality and the habit of cooperation needs to be reinforced and built upon.

“NATO is one of the international organizations which is still really functioning well.”

And he underscored that core bilateral relationships are of importance as well.

“I fully support the decisions of my successors to work on and to reinforce the relationship between the Luftwaffe and the RAF in terms of training and operations.

“We need to get to the point where we – while doing things like our Baltic Air Policing mission together – use the interoperability of our Eurofighter forces and employ these aircraft more efficiently.”

Lieutenant General (ret) Klaus-Peter Stieglitz was Chief of Staff, German Air Force from 2004 to 2009.

Lieutenant General Stieglitz joined the Luftwaffe in October 1968 and commenced officer training, followed by pilot training in the USA to become a fighter pilot. During his flying career he has accumulated more than 3.600 flight hours, mostly on combat aircraft, i.e. the F-104 Starfighter, F-4F Phantom, Mig-29 and Eurofighter/Typhoon. In 1981 – 83 he attended the German Armed Forces Staff College.

During his career he held numerous national and international staff and command positions, i.e. squadron commander, group commander, commander of a fighter wing, staff officer within the German MOD, staff officer at NATO Headquarters SHAPE, Belgium, commander of the NATO AWACS Component, Director Flight Safety of the German Armed Forces, commander of a German Air Division in Berlin and Deputy Commander NATO Air Forces Northern Europe, Ramstein.

In his last assignment he was Chief of Staff of the German Air Force from January 2004 to October 2009. Today he is engaged as senior advisor and consultant.

The featured photo shows the day when the Tornado bombers of the German Air Force are sent to their mission to Afghanistan.

Franz Josef JUNG l CDU federal minister of defence is together with general Klaus Peter STIEGLITZ/

April 2, 2007.

Credit: Alamay.


German Defense Policy at a Crossroads: The Tornado Successor Issue


By Karl Müllner and Klaus-Peter Stieglitz

The successor to the Tornado fighter jets is about Germany’s NATO contribution to credible deterrence.

The government has ruled out the most advanced weapons system F-35 – for political reasons. Two ex-generals warn of the consequences

With the decision to take the fighter aircraft F-35 of the US manufacturer Lockheed Martin without closer consideration from the competition for the succession of the obsolete Tornado jets of the Bundeswehr, Germany maneuvers itself in NATO offside.

Moreover, with the simultaneous postponement of the successor decision for the 85 Tornado aircraft indefinitely, Germany weakens NATO at its core – the credible deterrence and thus its ability to maintain peace in Europe.

Why were these two decisions made that way?

There is only one answer to that: they were made just for political and industrial reasons. For from the perspective of all military experts, the succession decision is already overdue for years.

And the big favorite in a fair competition is the F-35. Overdue is the succession decision for the Tornado fleet, because their economically viable service life will find an inevitable end at the latest by the end of the next decade, after 50 years of use.

The other two Tornado nations, Britain and Italy, had seen this long ago with far-sightedness and therefore decided to participate in the US Project F-35.

With the decision to procure the F-35, which in Germany at that time was commented on with a shortsightedness and a peacemaking zeal as a wrong decision and billions grave, Italy and Great Britain not only consolidate their leading role in the field of European NATO air forces, they also gain valuable technological Know-how and secure high-tech jobs. Incidentally, both countries are also involved in the Eurofighter, which, despite intended further developments, offers far less high-tech potential in the coming years than the F-35.

That the F-35 could hardly be beaten in a fair competition is proven by the competitions already held in Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium. The F-35 clearly won in all relevant categories against all European and US competitors, including the Eurofighter.

The performance of the F-35 is undisputed, the operating costs are at a comparable level, especially in the logistical network with the partner nations, and the initial costs are significantly lower than those of a Eurofighter.

Together with the future European F-35 nations Italy and Great Britain, these European countries will then have the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft, which, with its unique capabilities, will open completely new doors to European and transatlantic military cooperation in operations and operations. Nations like Germany, but also France, will only be in the second or third row.

So what was decisive for the exclusively political decision in Germany?

First, the state of the current federal government, which, according to opinion polls, has not had a majority in the population for months. In particular, the Social Democrats are in a low, in which they shy away from a decision on a new fighter aircraft for the Bundeswehr.

Secondly, the successor decision for the Tornado fleet involves German participation in NATO’s nuclear deterrent, commonly referred to as nuclear sharing. A crucial issue for the security of Germany, but domestic policy in all parties unpopular topic.

Third, whether the Social Democrats hope to win back old voters by expanding the welfare state should not be of interest. The financing of such projects is in direct competition with higher defense spending. Even though Germany is in favor of achieving NATO’s two-percent target, which is still a long way off at 1.24 percent, there is apparently no consensus in the grand coalition to finance a Tornado successor.

Fourth, ideological factors play a role that should not be underestimated. For example, hardly anyone in the grand coalition wants to support the purchase of a US fighter aircraft, even if it offers the best value for money and could be obtained with low risk.

Nobody wants to treat US President Donald Trump as a success right now.

Fifth, France threatens the failure of the politically agreed flagship project of a future Franco-German fighter aircraft in 2040+ if Germany decided to buy American F-35 aircraft. While this threat is hardly substantiated, it has left so much of an impression in Germany that it has had enough impact.

Although this can be explained by looking at the recently signed German-French Treaty on Future Cooperation in Aachen, it satisfies French rather than German interests. Incidentally, Belgium successfully resisted France’s massive political influence over its F-16 successor selection decision and, based on the facts of its competition, ruled appropriately for the F-35.

And finally there is the interest of German industry to keep American competition away from the German defense market.

In view of its own weaknesses, to be able to supply the Bundeswehr with the aircraft required for future order fulfillment, competition with a US F-35, which would inevitably be lost, must be avoided at all costs.

The political decision to exclude the F-35 from further consideration in Germany is thus a victory for the German armaments lobby, it weighs heavily for the Bundeswehr.

Which security policy consequences arise from this?

First, the Ministry of Defense continues to explore two ways to succeed the tornadoes. However, without a specific timetable. Given the political environment, no one believes that the grand coalition will decide yet. The decision is therefore postponed indefinitely.

At the same time, however, this means for the Bundeswehr that it must continue to fulfill its mission with the decrepit tornadoes indefinitely. In addition to incalculable high costs and risks for availability, this also brings with it growing risks in operation.

As a successor are theoretically still the Eurofighter or the US F-18 for election. However, both options have the serious disadvantage of being less effective and less efficient than the F-35, despite higher costs and development risks. Order fulfillment is not possible with any of these options without significant limitations.

For both the F-18 and more of the Eurofighter are lagging not only because of the lack of stealth cap, but also their sensors and management systems at least one generation of aircraft behind the F-35.

In concrete terms, they have little chance of achieving their goals and fulfilling their mission in an action against an enemy with a decent air defense. For the pilots this would be like a hardly survivable Ascension squad.

The desired deterrent effect would remain.

The threshold to an armed conflict would be lowered. And all in times of the termination of parts of the European contract-based security order, such as by Russia with the illegal international occupation of the Crimea or INF-contracted missile armor.

Neither in an armed international conflict nor for conventional and nuclear deterrence in the context of Alliance and national defense Germany will be able to contribute significantly to European or NATO air forces without fifth-generation combat aircraft.

The pledge to NATO to be able to lead one of the future multinational Air Force Groupings can also not be fulfilled.

The same applies to the EU.

The loss of credibility that Germany is suffering with the decisions taken so far also weighs heavily.

For years, Germany has spoken of its willingness to take on more responsibility for peace and a just order in the world – as documented in the 2016 White Paper on Security Policy. It also manifests itself in the right to a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

However, the assurances and claims quickly reach their limits when it comes to the concrete creation of military capabilities with which they can be exercised in the first place. For the Tornado fleet is the only major German contribution to NATO for deterrence and peacekeeping in Europe.

Deterrence, however, only works if it is credible.

It does not live by symbolism, but by concrete skills.

However, due to its age, the German contribution to the Tornado has already lost credibility. The discrepancy will be even greater as the F-35s become operational in Italy, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium and Turkey within a few years.

If the German contribution continues to be untrustworthy or can no longer be provided, this would also have negative effects on the strategically indispensable US guarantee and the nuclear disposition of NATO because of the resulting imbalance in the risk and burden sharing in NATO.

A termination of the NATO-Russia Basic Act and the stationing of nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe could be the result. When deciding on the successor to the Bundeswehr’s Tornado fighter plane, it is not just an important military decision with a European political and industrial significance, but a strategic decision with an impact on the European security order as a whole and Germany’s role as a leading nation.

If Germany sticks with the path it has now taken, it will leave the circle of security leadership nations in the EU and NATO, degrading itself to become a secondary support force.

It is necessary and corresponds to responsible policy for our country to deal with the issue of succession to the tornado of the Bundeswehr once again objectively and with the necessary strategic vision and to revise the decisions taken so far.

The authors are former Chiefs of Staff of the Luftwaffe.

February 15, 2019 and Translated from the original German piece in Die Welt.

For recent articles on the Tornado replacement issue, see the following:


Visiting 2nd Marine Air Wing


In this special report, we have brought together the interviews conducted in January 2018 from a visit to 2nd MAW in Cherry Point as well as New River.

Also included is a phone interview from late last Summer with the log demo team working at New River on the new CH-53K.

The visit highlighted Marine Corps participation in Trident Juncture 2018 as well as the work of the log demo team at New River working on the standup of the CH-53k.