Germany will send 13 military aircraft to join joint exercises in Australia. This is the largest peacetime deployment of the air force, and a clear indication of Berlin’s increasing focus on the Indo-Pacific, despite rising tensions with China.
A German warship entered the South China Sea last year for the first time since almost 20 years. This was a joint move by Berlin and other Western countries to increase its military presence in the area amid growing concern over Beijing’s territorial ambitions.
Tensions rose over Taiwan after China, which claims Taiwan as its territory, began military drills around Taiwan’s democratically-governed island following the visit of Nancy Pelosi to Taipei at August 1.
Six Eurofighter jets and three A330 tankers were flown from Cologne to take off Monday, 15 August, from Neuburg an der Donau, southern Germany. They will fly three days to Australia, where they will join four German A400M transporters, who have already left, for the biennial exercise Pitch Black.
Ingo Gerhartz, chief of German air force, told reporters that the pilots will perform nearly 200 mid-air fuellings of fighter jets during the deployment.
Gerhartz was asked if war planes would pass the South China Sea or Taiwan Strait, which are two flashpoints of tensions between China and Taiwan. Gerhartz replied that the aircraft would use civilian air traffic routes, and that no Taiwan Strait passage was planned.
He stated that the South China Sea and Taiwan were the main sticking points of the region. “We will fly to an altitude greater than 10 km, barely touching the South China Sea, and will travel on international routes.”
Gerhartz stated that he was aiming to send a message to Germany’s partners rather than China with the deployment: “I don’t think we are sending any threat messages towards China by flying for an exercise in Australia.”
Philip Green, Australia’s ambassador in Germany, echoed the sentiment. He stressed that there was no reason for Beijing to view a regular exercise as threatening to the region.
Green stated that China is the target of his message to Green.
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