Around 100 aircraft and 2,500 military personnel from NATO member states, Asia and Oceania are taking part in the Pitch Black 22 major air exercise

Australia, Germany, Korea, the United States, Japan and 12 other nations make a show of force against China

PHOTO/RAAF - Australia's Air Chief Marshal Angus Campbell, with Colonel Gordon Schnittger, head of the Luftwaffe expeditionary unit, standing next to his Eurofighter fighter with its tail rudder decorated for the occasion

The governments of Germany, South Korea and Japan have decided to join a major air war exercise organised by the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF), in which 17 NATO member and partner countries and nations from across Asia, along with the host country and New Zealand, are taking part.

Called Pitch Black 22, it runs until 8 September in northern Australia and is one of the largest air deployments ever seen in the skies of Oceania's largest nation, located some 14,000 kilometres from Spain, almost at our antipodes.

For much of the international community, especially in Asia, Pitch Black 22 is the counterpart to the spectacular and intimidating ground and naval manoeuvres authorised by Chinese President Xi Jinping as an early reaction to recent visits by Washington politicians to Taiwan's capital, Taipei. 

It is seen in many Asian countries as an underhand warning to Beijing to curb its aggressive attitudes in the waters and skies of the Indo-Pacific. However, the exercise director, Commodore Tim Alsop, insists that Pitch Black 22 is only intended to "improve the training of airmen" and "does not seek to antagonise any nation. It is not against anyone. Luftwaffe chief Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, who ruled out that Pitch Black 22 and Germany were sending Beijing "some kind of threatening message".

PHOTO/Luftwaffe - El avión Eurofighter del jefe de la unidad expedicionaria de la Luftwaffe, el coronel Gordon Schnittger, decorado en su totalidad con los colores de las banderas de los países que visitará durante su despliegue intercontinental

Held biennially but with the 2020 edition cancelled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the manoeuvres already underway are attended by fighter and transport air units from the host country and nine other nations: France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, South Korea, the United Kingdom, the United States and the United States. There are around 100 aircraft, mostly fighters, with their pilots, teams of mechanics, software technicians, armourers and auxiliary personnel.

Japan, South Korea and Germany are attending for the first time

The other seven nations - Canada, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the Philippines, Thailand and the Union of Arab Emirates - are not contributing aircraft but military personnel dedicated to air traffic control, communications, logistics, security, health, administration and planning. In total, the human component amounts to some 2,500 people and both they and the aircraft are positioned at three air bases, mainly at Darwin on the north coast. 

Lessons learned from the outbreak of war in Ukraine and tension in the China Sea have prompted Japan's Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, recently diagnosed with COVID-19, and the President of the Republic of Korea, Yoon Suk-yeol, to decide that their air forces should join the RAAF's major air exercises for the first time. 

PHOTO/USAF - El Jefe de Estado Mayor de la RAAF, mariscal Robert Chipman, con el secretario de la Fuerza Aérea de Estados Unidos, Frank Kendall. El Pentágono participa con un importante número de cazas F-35B y F-22

With their decision, the governments of Tokyo and Seoul are demonstrating their willingness to cooperate in maintaining security in the Indo-Pacific theatre, to participate in expeditionary operations and to work together with their allies to meet common challenges. Korea is present with an expeditionary force of six domestically produced F-16 or KF-16 fighters. Japan's Air Self-Defence Force (JSDF) brings two Mitsubishi F-2 fighters, the Japanese variant of the US Boeing F-16 fighter. 

Germany's case is very different. Firstly, because the distance between South Korea and Japan and Australia is 5,300 and 5,400 kilometres respectively, while Germany's distance is about 13,000 kilometres. And secondly, because Berlin has no direct responsibilities in the region.

Instead, for the first time in the nation's post-World War II history, the German government has sent an expeditionary group of six Luftwaffe Eurofighter Typhoons in the operation "Rapid Pacific 2022". Their 12,800-kilometre flight was carried out over three days, supported by four NATO A400M transport aircraft and three A330 MRTT refuelling aircraft, representing one of its largest peacetime deployments. 

PHOTO/Luftwaffe - Desde su base en Neuberg (Baviera), los seis aviones de la Luftwaffe han volado 12.800 kilómetros apoyados por 3 aviones de reabastecimiento A330 MRTT en lo que representa su mayor despliegue en tiempos de paz

Indo-Pacific becomes important for Germany

Germany's temporary presence in the region is in line with new guidelines issued by Berlin for its policy in the Far East. In an official document dated September 2020, Chancellor Angela Merkel calls for "intensified security and defence cooperation in the Indo-Pacific region".

The first step was the F-217 Bayern frigate's half-year mission - from August 2021 to mid-February 2022 - in the Indo-Pacific, which took her to Perth and Darwin (Australia), the US island of Guam, Tokyo (Japan), Busan (Korea), Ho Chi Minh City (Vietnam), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mumbai (India) and Karachi (Pakistan).

PHOTO/SIPA Air - Las fuerzas aéreas participantes en Pitch Black 22 han cooperado incluso antes del inicio del ejercicio. Un avión de la Fuerza Aérea francesa A330 MRTT ha abastecido de combustible a los Sukhoi Su-30MKI de India en su vuelo hasta Australia

Operation Rapid Pacific 2022 now demonstrates the Luftwaffe's strength in rapidly projecting power and sustaining air deployments many thousands of kilometres from home territory. Luftwaffe Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz said in Australia a few days ago that the Indo-Pacific "is of great importance to Germany". We share the same values with many partners in the region," he stressed, "and to defend them in the event of a war emergency and to be able to support our partners is something that must be practised".

The French Air Force is also present at Pitch Black 22, but for very different and justified reasons. It is bringing three Rafale fighters, two A330 MRTTTs, a CN-235 transport and a C-130H. Unlike Berlin, Paris is not a new player in the region. The French Republic has territories in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, such as New Caledonia, French Polynesia, Wallis and Futuna and the islands of Mayotte and Réunion, which require a military presence to ensure its sovereignty. And it maintains a close strategic alliance with India in defence, security and atomic energy. 

PHOTO/Guy Young - El elevado número de aviones involucrados en el ejercicio aéreo y sus distintas nacionalidades y tipos conlleva que la mayor parte de las fuerzas aéreas implicadas aporten controladores aéreos y personal de comunicaciones

After the unpleasant affair of Australia's cancellation of its purchase of submarines in mid-September 2021, President Emmanuel Macron is trying to rebuild bilateral relations with the government of Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

The joint communiqué dated 1 July expresses the common desire to "forge a new defence relationship, including through operational commitments, intelligence exchanges and maritime surveillance". The Elysée Palace is therefore doing its utmost to ensure that the Australia-UK-US strategic military alliance (AUKUS) does not prevent confidence from reigning between Paris and Canberra.