‘Air-To-Air’ Combat: F-15s, Eurofighters To Battle During ‘Nippon Skies’ As Japan, Germany To Hold 1st-Ever Bilateral Drills

German fighter jets will be seen soaring over Japanese airspace next month as the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) and the Luftwaffe prepare for their first-ever bilateral exercise, “Nippon Skies.” 

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This exercise follows the Rapid Pacific deployment two years ago, demonstrating the German Air Force’s continued commitment to projecting force in the Indo-Pacific region.

As part of the Pacific Skies 24 initiative, the German Air Force, supported by the Multinational MRTT Unit, is conducting a long-range deployment to showcase its force projection capabilities and its commitment to regional stability, mutual trust, and partnership.

The deployment to the Indo-Pacific will involve a formidable array of aircraft, including 4 A400Ms, 8 Eurofighters, 12 Tornados, 4 A330 MRTT aircraft, and 4 light utility helicopters. 

These assets will engage in comprehensive training exercises with allied and partner air forces and navies, fostering a combined joint operational setting. 

Key activities will encompass low-level flying, defensive and offensive counter-air operations, and air-to-air refueling. For the German Air Force, this deployment represents a significant opportunity as it will be the last time the Tornado aircraft participate in an international exercise before their retirement. 

The Tornados have already commenced low-level training in Alaska in preparation for their participation in the Arctic Defender exercise in early July. 

This marks the end of an era for the German Tornados, which will be replaced by F-35As for nuclear strike roles and specially equipped Eurofighters for electronic warfare roles.  

The Nippon Skies exercise, set to occur from July 22 to 25, will focus primarily on air-to-air combat, including live-firing exercises. This exercise follows the German Air Force’s first visit to Japan in 2022.

Four F-15 fighter jets from the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF), along with three Eurofighter jets, two A400M transport aircraft, and one A321 transport plane from the German Air Force, will participate in the exercise. Approximately 80 members of the German Air Force will be involved. 

A Luftwaffe spokesperson informed The Japan Times that three of the eight Eurofighter Typhoons will remain at Chitose Air Base to participate in the joint drills, while the remaining aircraft will proceed to Australia to join French and Spanish aircraft in the Pitch Black multilateral exercise. 

Defense Minister Minoru Kihara highlighted the significance of these exercises, stating, “The successive visits to the Indo-Pacific region by the armed forces of these countries are proof of their willingness and ability to engage in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Three European Nations To Deploy Forces Simultaneously in Japan 

In addition to Germany, Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) will engage in joint drills with the air forces of France and Spain in Japan this July. 

Japan’s Ministry of Defense emphasized that these joint exercises are not targeted at any specific country or region. However, the drills, conducted under the banner of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” are seen as a strategic move to counterbalance China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

This marks the first time aircraft from these three European nations will be deployed simultaneously in Japan. It will also be the first joint training with the Spanish Air Force in Japan and the second for both the German and French air forces.

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These joint drills are part of the broader Pacific Skies 24 exercise, which involves the deployment of fighter jets and other aircraft to the Indo-Pacific region, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Australia, from mid-June to mid-August.

Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, Chief of the German Air Force, emphasized the significance of this deployment, noting, “By participating in Pacific Skies 24, we as Europeans are showing presence in a part of the world that is of great importance to all of us.”

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Specifically, the joint training between the ASDF, the German Air Force, and the Spanish Air and Space Force will occur in the airspace around Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido from July 19 to 20. 

The participating forces will include four F-15 fighter jets from Japan, eight Eurofighter fighter jets, three A400M transport aircraft, four A330MRTT aerial refueling aircraft, one A321 transport aircraft from Germany, and four Eurofighter fighter jets, and two A400M transport aircraft from Spain. 

Eurofighter Typhoons of the German Air Force 30-23
Image for Representation: Eurofighter Typhoon of the German Air Force

Moreover, in addition to the bilateral aerial exercise dubbed “Nippon Skies” between the German and Japanese Air Forces, the ASDF will also conduct joint training with the French Air and Space Force in the airspace around the ASDF’s Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture in the Kanto region from July 19 to 20. 

The ASDF will be represented by two F-2 fighter jets, while the French Air and Space Force will send four Rafale fighter jets, three A400M transport aircraft, and three A330MRTT aerial refueling aircraft, with a contingent of 260 personnel.