Wing commander Colonel Björn Andersen: "An enormous challenge and a great experience"

Wing commander Colonel Björn Andersen: "An enormous challenge and a great experience"

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The exercise will begin at the end of June. Five Eurofighters of 71 Tactical Air Wing Richthofen will deploy to Alaska for the initial part of the Pacific Skies 24 exercise series. After the training flights in Alaska, the exercises will continue in Australia and India. Preparations have long been underway at 71 Tactical Air Wing. The wing commander, Colonel Björn Andersen, also reports that there is great excitement about the upcoming exercise.

The pilot of a combat aircraft is standing under a Eurofighter.

Colonel Björn Andersen is the commander of 71 Tactical Air Force Wing Richthofen, which participates with five Eurofighters in the Pitch Black exercise in Australia and the Tarang Shakti exercise in India

Bundeswehr/Sebastian Thomas

Colonel, what significance does the participation in Pacific Skies 24 have for the unit?

During Pacific Skies 24, 71 Tactical Air Wing Richthofen will participate in both the Pitch Black 24 exercise in Australia and the Tarang Shakti exercise, which will follow directly afterwards in India. For us, the entire exercise will be the central focus of 2024. As a unit, we hope that we will gain extensive experience from the exercise in terms of strategic deployments, multinational cooperation, and joint operations with fifth-generation combat aircraft – for example in the interaction of F-35, F-22 and Eurofighter aircraft. We will also participate in joint exercises with Russian-design aircraft such as the Indian SU 30. These experiences in the field of aviation will be complemented by the organizational, planning and logistic factors playing a part in flight operations on the other side of the world. All of this will be a huge challenge for personnel and equipment but also a great experience.

Let’s talk about the planning effort: What has kept your Operations (S3) personnel particularly on their toes in recent months?

Of course, logistics over long distances is a particular challenge, especially for my deployment cell. We have been planning the exercise since mid-2023 because the long distances also require long lead times. The first materiel will be shipped at the beginning of March, all of which must be prepared accordingly. A particular challenge lies in the Australian requirements for biological security, which are intended to protect the environment and wildlife from pests and diseases. For this purpose, an Australian BioSec inspector will check and sign off all materiel packages in the unit before they go on their journey.

How many aircraft and personnel will you deploy?

We will be present in Australia and India with five Eurofighters. In total, the Bundeswehr will take part in the Pitch Black exercise with about 200 people; about three quarters will come from my unit. With preparation and follow-up, more than half of the unit will be involved in the Pitch Black and Tarang Shakti exercises in some way. I will meet the Eurofighter crews in Australia, fly an aircraft myself down under and deploy with the Eurofighters to India to fly there as well during the exercise.

Will the fulfillment of your QRAQuick Reaction Alert (Quick Reaction Alert) mission at home continue to be ensured?

Definitely! Providing the QRAQuick Reaction Alert element is always a top priority and will also be ensured during the exercise. This is also something we will demonstrated during Pacific Skies 24: The German Air Force can fulfill its missions in Germany and Europe as well as be present in the Indo-Pacific region.

What are the major challenges of a long-distance deployment?

We will be in a region where we do not fly very often. A different airspace structure, foreign landing sites and other weather conditions with high temperatures are factors we have to consider. The biggest challenge are the long flight times. To stay focused for more than eight hours and to carry out air refueling requires the pilots to be particularly fit, while at the same time coping with fatigue.

Are there methods to prepare the pilots for this?

The subject of fatigue will be addressed in particular in the preparation classes with our flight surgeons. And then, of course, there are methods such as concentration exercises, games or music which help to stay focused – of course, in compliance with all safety regulations.

How do the remaining personnel and materiel get to Australia?

Most of the personnel will be deployed using aircraft of the German Air Force, such as the A400M. The materiel will mainly be transported by ship.

What expectations do you have regarding the exchange of experience with your partners?

It starts with the fact that we will work together with our partners from France with four Rafale aircraft and from Spain with four Eurofighters to complete the deployment. Both nations also participate with a total of five A400M, in addition to the at least four German A400M, and several tanker aircraft. This form of interoperability allows our technical personnel to learn a lot. Furthermore, the Spanish Air Force will deploy a much smaller number of engineering personnel and the support of their aircraft will largely be done by us. This will consolidate the synergy effects that we have already been able to leverage together with Spain within the scope of NATO air policing in the Baltic region last year. In this respect, we also benefit from the fact that many of the people involved now know each other and are familiar with the respective processes of their partners. This creates a stable basis of trust, which we can further expand with this exercise. All in all, this exercise will strengthen military partnerships throughout the region and promote mutual trust and respect.

How can an exercise such as Pitch Black be useful for enhancing interoperability?

Multinational exercises mean other languages, other aircraft, other routines. In addition, we will be able to conduct composite air operations (COMAOs), with large formations of some 40 to 50 aircraft or more, by day and night during the exercise. This is something we cannot practice in this form during routine operations in Germany and is therefore very important to us. In our view, training in foreign regions and in an unfamiliar climate is an excellent exercise.

But even outside the individual missions, the participating nations are involved in a permanent exchange, which makes the exercise all the more valuable. Together with our partners, we will also demonstrate that we are able to carry out a logistic and operational deployment of this scale with our resources and capabilities – without neglecting our tasks in Europe.

What do you expect the situation in Australia to be from an aviation point of view?

The exercise will take place in the region around Darwin in northern Australia. One of the major advantages is the dimension of the sparsely populated exercise area, which has the size of northern Germany and allows us to fly freely at any altitude. This opens up possibilities that we do not have in Germany.

What roles and missions are we talking about?

We will mainly be employed in the roles of DCA (Defensive Counter-Air) and OCA (Offensive Counter-Air). In these roles, we will practice the protection of our own territory or the protection of our own aircraft in the event of air attacks on targets in enemy territory. In addition, there will be scenarios in which we will practice air-to-ground combat and thus the multirole capability of the Eurofighter, as well as missions in which we will represent the enemy as so-called Red Air.

Personal details

Colonel Björn Andersen (43) was born in Stuttgart and began his officer training with the Air Force in 2000. After studying economics and organizational sciences at the Bundeswehr University in Munich, he received flight training and training on the Tornado weapon system. After assignments as a pilot, military aide and operations officer, Andersen completed the General Staff Course and held positions in the Federal Ministry of Defense, for example as Deputy Military Assistant to the Bundeswehr Chief of Defense. Since February 2023, he has been the commander of 71 Tactical Air Wing Richthofen. He is married with two children.

by Rüdiger Franz