‘Ni Hao’ China! 6th-Gen FCAS Partners To Flex Muscles With Japan As NATO “Expands” Into Indo-Pacific

OPED By Amb. Gurjit Singh

In July 2024, 30 Air Force planes from Spain, France, and Germany are scheduled to hold exercises with Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force. This will be the first time ever that these three NATO countries will be jointly deployed in the Indo-Pacific.

These exercises, which will begin on 19 July, are components of the two-month-long tri-national Pacific Skies deployment. This deployment will bring the German, French, and Spanish Air Forces together to cooperate with partners in the region, including the four Quad countries of India, Japan, Australia, and the United States.

While France and Japan will exercise around the Hyakuri airbase in Ibaraki Prefecture of Japan, Germany, and Spain will hold these at Chitose airbase in Hokkaido, which is the subject of a Russian protest. The Russians did not protest about exercises in Ibaraki Prefecture.

Russia protested and declared as “categorically unacceptable” that joint military exercises are to be held on Hokkaido; this is perceived as too close for comfort off the far eastern coast of Russia. They are also unhappy with the participation of NATO members distant from Europe. “We view such activity as a potential threat to the security of the Russian Federation,” a Russian ministry statement said.

At China’s Mercy – Why ‘Highly Contested’ & ‘Highly Invested’ Indo-Pacific Region Could See PLA Ruling The Roost

The 75th anniversary NATO Summit, which will be held from 9 to 11 July, has specifically invited the four Indo-Pacific partners (IP4)—Japan, Australia, Korea, and New Zealand—to participate in and contribute to the declaration on the Indo-Pacific. This NATO expansion into the Indo-Pacific brings a greater focus on Russia from the Ukraine context than on China, which is the regional bugbear.

While France will send Rafael jets, Germany and Spain will send their Eurofighter Typhoons. Japan’s ASDF will use its F2s and F15s for these exercises. Transport and air-to-air refueling aircraft are a big part of these exercises. They will be seen in action over four continents and participate in the Arctic Defender in Alaska, the Pitch Black in Darwin, and the Tarun Shakti in Jodhpur.

Later in July, from 22 to 25, the ASDF and the Luftwaffe will also hold the initial Nippon Skies exercise. Germany will use some of its planes for the trilateral exercise, while the rest will be in Australia along with the French and Spanish contingents for the Pitch-Black multinational exercise.

Japan, India, and several ASEAN countries would also be a part of that.

Pitch Black is the largest ever, with 20 participating countries, 140 aircraft, and 4435 personnel. Nippon Skies will focus on air-to-air combat, and Pacific Skies will enhance the coordination of European forces with Japan in the Indo-Pacific.

Japanese Defense Minister Kihara has said that the different visits by friendly countries’ armed forces to their bases in the Indo-Pacific region show the potential for cooperation to maintain a Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). These exercises will also raise the profile of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, which are now assuming a bigger role in the region.

France, Germany, and Spain, which are now going to exercise with Japan, are together developing the Future Combat Air System (FCAS), a sixth-generation fighter aircraft and next-generation UAVs.

Japan is part of a similar effort under the Global Combat Air Program, which has Britain and Italy as partners. They hope to develop the next-generation combat aircraft by 2035. While these countries coordinate exercises, their weapons systems development is separate and diverse.

US, China, Europe Race Ahead In 6th-Gen Fighter Program; Can India Join UK-Led GCAP Or France-Led FCAS?

These exercises show that, besides exercising with the Quad, Japan is now exercising with the Europeans, as are Australia and the US in the Indo-Pacific. India is doing it separately without participating in NATO meetings. All of them hope to counter challenges in the region, security threats across the seas, and disruptions of established supply chains.

Japan and the European NATO countries have clearly gone ahead to pursue their objective of keeping European security as part of the Indo-Pacific’s security. This does not become a Quad effort because India does not concur that European problems should come to Asia, though India has a close engagement with European forces, too.

Germany, France and other European countries would also send maritime flotillas to the region on a higher scale than earlier. Germany will now send a fleet of frigates and supply ships, which will participate in the US Navy-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise.

Germany – The Next France For India? Ambassador Hints “All Reluctance Over”; Wants Strong Military Ties With New Delhi

France and Italy are also participants in RIMPAC. India is a participant in this the world’s largest maritime exercise and INS Shivalik joins RIMPAC after a bilateral JIMEX with Japan.

RIMPAC has 29 countries participating over six weeks, during which a theatre-level large force tactical exercise will be held with the participation of an Aircraft Carrier Battle Group, submarines, maritime reconnaissance aircraft, unmanned aerial vehicles, remotely piloted surface ships, and amphibious force landing operations, including joint operations with special forces of multinational navies.

There is an increasing perception in Europe that stability in the Indo-Pacific, which is under threat from China, coincides with European interests in the region. While regional priorities are the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean, NATO countries look at the Taiwan issue as a bigger focus.

File Image

While India welcomes closer cooperation with Japan, Australia, and the US without pursuing the Quad’s military aspects, it is also enhancing its engagement with European countries with a cogent Indo-Pacific outlook.

All activity by the Quad and European partners in the Indo-Pacific invariably involves India. Since the Ukraine crisis, the US has consolidated NATO and is now integrating its Indo-Pacific partners into NATO arrangements. The shadow of NATO over the Indo-Pacific is becoming clear, even though France stymied an effort to open a NATO office in Japan.

From the Indian point of view, while there is a common perspective on the Indo-Pacific, with most of its partners, it does not participate in NATO activity. Nor does it agree that NATO’s priorities of focusing on Russia and Taiwan are Indian priorities.

Therefore, with increased activity in the Indo-Pacific, India will have to maintain its regular participation and strategic autonomy from its regional and global partners.

  • Gurjit Singh is a former Ambassador to Germany, Indonesia, Ethiopia, ASEAN, and the African Union Chair, CII Task Force on Trilateral Cooperation in Africa, Professor, IIT Indore.
  • Follow EurAsian Times On Twitter (Now X)