NATO air forces were the first responders to the Russian invasion

Date 1.9.2022

On the occasion of the upcoming NATO Days in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where Lieutenant General Ingo Gerharzt will receive a significant award for his work, we bring you this exclusive interview with him. As Chief of the German Air Force, he leads almost 30,000 servicemen and women. 
 

In addition to numerous leadership assignments and positions in the Federal Ministry of Defense, his military career is characterized by assignments in which he played a decisive role in the further development of the German Air Force. When he took over command of the German Air Force in May 2018, he successfully concentrated his efforts on improving operational readiness. He also focused on multinational cooperation and interoperability and set the course for rapid and consistent modernization of the German Air Force with decisions such as the F-35 as the successor of the Tornado, the weaponization of drones, the next generation of helicopters, and the evolution of missile defense.

After completing his flying training on the Eurofighter weapon system in February 2020, he is actively engaged in flight service as a pilot. Lieutenant General Gerhartz has logged a total of over 2,500 flight hours on four aircraft types: F-4F, MIG-29, Tornado, and Eurofighter. As Air Wing Commander in the Afghanistan mission, Lieutenant General Gerhartz flew more than 50 ISAF sorties on the Tornado aircraft.

Lieutenant General Gerhartz has also devoted himself with a great personal commitment to fostering the German-Israeli friendship. The flyover of the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial in 2020 and a joint formation flight over the Knesset in Israel in 2021 by German and Israeli aircraft are visible signs of reconciliation and trustful cooperation.

You have been a frequent visitor of NATO days at Ostrava. In your opinion, what is so special about it?

NATO days at OSTRAVA are always a special event for me. Every time I’m impressed of how many aircraft are there on display. I really like the relaxed atmosphere and the airmanship amongst participants. Further, it is also a great opportunity for everybody to discuss new ideas on how to apply airpower in the future. Above all that, OSTRAVA brings together both NATO members and partner nations. In these days we are sending a clear message that NATO and its partner nations are standing together. OSTRAVA is a symbol for our cohesion and the common values we share. And in this particular time, the value of our common principles and beliefs, our unity and our friendship are probably more relevant than ever. 

You have been nominated for the NATO Transatlantic Award. What does that mean for you? 

First of all, I must say that I feel deeply honored for that. Common values form a bond between democracies on both sides of the Atlantic. Many of our aviators go through Europe NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in Sheppard, which is the cradle of our interoperability as far as air power is concerned. When Russia attacked Ukraine, nobody in NATO hesitated to deploy aircraft on NATO’s eastern flank. European countries provided the host nations with support for incoming aircraft. Our multinational-operated A330 from Eindhoven refueled fighter jets from overseas. European fighter jets escorted reconnaissance and early warning assets during their deployment. Aircraft maintenance was conducted across nations, i.e. Italy was taking care of our jet aircraft during our Combined Air Policing missions over Romania. Close cooperation between NATO allies and partner nations was and is still key to success. We must increase interoperability across the Atlantic. We need to continue to foster our transatlantic relations among nations. So, I can say, the Transatlantic Award is a motivation for me. And I will take it on behalf of all my airmen in the Luftwaffe. Those are the ones who really do a great job. 

Before the Russian invasion into Ukraine NATO was publicly criticized for being obsolete. What are your thoughts about it?

NATO has always been a strong Alliance. European security is based on common values. We stand together if liberty, democracy or human rights are jeopardized. Collective defense is at the heart of the Alliance. It creates a spirit of solidarity and cohesion amongst its members. This principle has proven effective for decades delivering security and stability across Europe. NATO airpower was the first responder when Russia started to threaten international security. For example, within a few hours additional German Eurofighters were sent to Romania to enforce Air Policing South. More than a hundred aircraft were airborne and safeguarding NATO’s eastern flank. NATO air forces were the first responders! If allied aircrew had not trained together over the last decades, we would not have achieved that level of interoperability allowing us to deter and detain Russian aggression. 

Burden sharing is a key principle within the Alliance. However, if in terms of keeping the balance right, what should European NATO members do more?

Over the last few years, enormous efforts have been made when it comes to increased defense investment. However, it is always crucial to what this money will be used for. The decision to procure F-35 aircraft was paramount for us. Joining the club of allied F-35 users was a clear signal to increase the interoperability and cohesion of European airpower. Supplemented with more electronic warfare-capable Eurofighters, the German Air Force will be ready to counter future threats especially when facing a more challenging environment. Further, the CH-47 CHINOOK Block II will enhance our heavy transport helicopter fleet. Especially the combination of vertical lift capacity and air-to-air refueling is vital to ensure air mobility or conduct CSAR missions over an extended range. 

Russia’s arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles has turned into a real threat to its neighboring countries. As a consequence, you made a proposal to the German chancellor to procure the Israeli ARROW 3 anti-missile system. Will this system only cover Germany?

Recent conflicts have shown that forces on the ground or critical infrastructure are extremely threatened by attacks from above. So, we have to think about how to build a dome or an umbrella against those threats. On the lower layer, for example against drones, we think about short-range air defense systems utilizing a surface-launched variant of the IRIS-T missile. Protection against fast jets, helicopters, and tactical ballistic missiles is widely covered by our PATRIOT missile system. On the upper layer, NATO’s Integrated Air and Missile Defence System could benefit from a defense system that has an extra-atmospheric kill capability. For example, a small amount of Arrow 3 launchers in combination with some sensors will not only provide protection for Germany, but it will also cover adjacent countries enhancing Europe’s protection against long-range missile attacks.

What is your vision in terms of the future of European airpower?

Talking about how European airpower might look like in the future, it is important because as we introduce 5th generation aircraft, the future 6th generation will take the challenges, demands, and also opportunities to a next level by teaming manned with unmanned systems, command fighter and remote carriers, fusioning sensors, and effects to superior battle performance. The first step is to think about the threat environment we have to deal with. With more sophisticated air defense systems coming onto the market and space becoming more important, we will definitely face a more challenging environment. So we need to have the capability to conduct operations in all domains. This will require a clear understanding of the situation, so that we can observe, orient, decide and act. Consequently, we need to make use of all kinds of sensors whilst exploiting both manned and unmanned platforms. Finally, we have to have a combat cloud from which we can draw our information if needed. However, we can only succeed if we as European air forces work closely together and continue to enhance our interoperability.


Interviewed by: EIC/ACE magazine, Katerina Urbanova

Photo credit: Luftwaffe

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