Dutch F-35 at Baltic Hunter 2023
Dutch F-35 at Baltic Hunter 2023
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Baltic Hunter is the final exercise for future weapons instructors. This is where the participants train what could happen in case of an air war. For this purpose, the Air Force Weapons School has created missions in which existing tactics are tested and, if necessary, advanced. This also requires employment of the F-35 – the future weapon system of the German Air Force.
In Laage, the sky is covered with clouds. Only occasionally do sunrays break through. The air is autumnally fresh. Everything seems to be quiet. But this is deceiving. There is war over Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania – but fortunately only a simulated one. Gradually, the sounds of military aircraft taking off break through the peaceful silence. In a small and inconspicuous building on the premises of 73 Tactical Air Wing Steinhoff, a dark room is teeming with people. This is the tactical control unit of the Air Force Weapons School, called Jarvis.
Here, the experts from the Bundeswehr Military Intelligence Organization, the Tactical Air Command and Control Group and air defense are sitting together in groups. They monitor and control the missions of the ongoing air operation. Glaring light shines from the countless monitors and the large screen. There is a babel of voices in the room; small symbols are scurrying across the displays. Everybody is highly concentrated. No wonder, for there are currently 50 military aircraft – airplanes and helicopters – in the exercise airspace.
Fighting in a team
During Baltic Hunter, the entire spectrum of offensive and defensive air operations is being practiced – within the scope of a mission-based air warfare exercise scenario as it could actually take place. In this exercise, the interaction between flying elements and ground forces is of particular importance. While the future weapons inspectors had initially trained independently in their respective areas during their several months of training, they must now plan and act together as a team.
The twelve weapons instructor candidates lead the missions and the units participating in these missions. The pilots act as mission commanders and direct the planning process and the execution. A total of 500 participants are practicing during Baltic Hunter. 80 of them are employed in ground-based air defense alone.
An exercise area with many advantages
The exercise area in northeastern Germany allows the Baltic Hunter 2023 participants to practice in the air and on the ground. “What is peculiar about this exercise area is that we fly over land where we have set up simulated or real targets in the training areas of the region, i.e. tanks or real ground-based enemy air defense systems or mock-ups technically equipped to the original standards, which we can then identify during the scenario. This is also something special for the Dutch F-35 aircraft employed and is gladly accepted because the Netherlands have the airspace above sea, but no training area”, says Lieutenant Colonel Dirk Pingel. He is the Commandant of the Air Force Weapons School. The missions were designed under his command.
Role of the F-35 during Baltic Hunter 2023
Cooperation between the Dutch and German weapons schools is not new. But for the first time, Dutch F-35 jet aircraft of the “Koninklijke Luchtmacht” (Royal Netherlands Air Force) practice in German airspace during weapons instructor training under German command. They are fully integrated in the exercise.
“During the last course, the Dutch, as NATO partners, with their F-35 combat aircraft were integrated into real mission scenarios as a complementary element. Today, we practice together, particularly in order to facilitate the integration of our own future F-35 aircraft into the German Air Force as soon as they have been fielded. The experience gained from the joint training activities will be quite helpful, particularly in the operational-tactical area”, explains Pingel. Thus, the training results are analyzed during joint debriefings in order to learn from each other. The Commandant of the Dutch Weapons School, Lieutenant Colonel Toon van de Graaf, also gives a positive summary of the cooperation: “The exchange of knowledge helps our best pilots to become even better weapons instructors.”
During Baltic Hunter, the F-35s are mainly employed for the suppression of enemy air defenses, shortly called SEAD. However, the jet aircraft also act as bombers or fighters.
The Weapons School as a trailblazer for the German Air Force
The technical capabilities of the German Eurofighter and the Dutch F-35 have not changed significantly in recent times. However, the operational flight tactics and procedures are constantly evolving. This is where the Air Force Weapons School comes into play. It already takes into account the combination of fourth-generation combat aircraft, i.e. Eurofighters, and fifth-generation combat aircraft, i.e. F-35s, when developing and improving tactics in possible air warfare scenarios. This is also the case during Baltic Hunter. The Weapons School acts as a trailblazer for the German Air Force in order to ensure that this Service will continue to be well prepared for national and collective defense in the future.