Luftwaffe Preparing for Future Challenges
Interview with the Chief of the German Air Force Staff
Lieutenant General Karl Müllner is the Chief of Staff of the German Air Force (GAF). The JAPCC is grateful for the support we receive from the GAF and from Lieutenant General Müllner personally. Recently, he kindly agreed to answer some questions for this edition of the JAPCC Journal.
Sir, the German Armed Forces, the Bundeswehr, has started one of the biggest structural reforms of its history. The Luftwaffe has its share in this major reorientation of the Bundeswehr. From your perspective, what are the most important benefits but also major challenges?
Your assessment is quite right: The Luftwaffe is undergoing an intense and demanding restructuring programme affecting almost every aspect of armed forces, including procedures, structures, and financial austerity. The overall aim of the reform is to make the armed forces more deployable, efficient, and effective. To meet the given Level of Ambition, the structure of our Air Force has been scrutinized. We re-thought our way of doing business, to increase mission orientation throughout the Air Force. As a consequence, command structures have been flattened and focused, whilst decision cycles needed to be shortened and accelerated. Following an analysis of the work flow and the command, control, and communication processes, the new structure of the Luftwaffe has been reorganized. As a consequence, the total number of commands has been significantly reduced, thus streamlining command and control procedures. Functional areas cover now air operations, command of air and ground forces, and service support.
Overall, the Luftwaffe has taken important steps towards a new and efficient structure. Our personnel are demonstrating the high standard of training and skills no matter whether in Germany or on missions abroad. However, the reorientation is still far from completion.
Capability development is a permanent focus of the Luftwaffe, given the fact that there is still a lot to do. Future missions will challenge us in different ways, but most likely won’t be less demanding than previous ones. Hence the Luftwaffe has not only to sustain a broad spectrum of capabilities, but must enhance and develop it in order to offer a broad range of options for our political masters. The emphasis is placed on existing capability gaps for the most likely operations striving for enhancements of the air force’s combat capabilities.
The Luftwaffe has not only started a large scale restructuring programme but is facing a major shift concerning its fleet and equipment as well. How will the Luftwaffe change in the upcoming years?
First of all, the EUROFIGHTER has certainly become the showpiece of the Luftwaffe. More than 100 aircraft were delivered so far and have been put in service. We have one of the best combat aircraft of the world at our disposal. The EUROFIGHTER proved its tremendous capability as a fighter aircraft both in various air defence exercises and during air policing operations over Germany and NATO territory. Its capabilities were proven from September 2014 to January 2015 as Germany had sent four EUROFIGHTER to Ämari air base, Estonia, as our contribution to NATO’s reassurance measures for our allies. However, the rapid introduction of multirole capabilities for our EUROFIGHTER is of utmost importance to me. The experience that our partners and allies made, for instance during Operation Unified Protector, have shown a substantial improvement in combat efficiency coming along with multirole capabilities. Therefore, it is our aim to bring a first module of multi role EUROFIGHTER aircraft in service as soon as possible.
Our TORNADO fleet remains the backbone of our air-to-ground capability for the time being. Due to the fact that this aircraft has still a vital task for tactical air reconnaissance and that it is the German contribution towards the nuclear sharing arrangements within NATO, I intend to keep the TORNADO within the Luftwaffe’s portfolio for the foreseeable future.
Another topic of public awareness has been the future procurement of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) for our forces. Due to their inherent capabilities, RPAS have become indispensable means of modern air forces in joint operations. The service contracted RPAS HERON 1 in Afghanistan improved the situational awareness and security for our ground troops. We must ensure that the experience gained in the field of RPAS will be maintained and extended seamlessly after the ISAF mission that has just ended. This includes joint training and exercises as well as preparation for future operations. The Luftwaffe seeks to operate a more powerful and armed RPAS to meet the forces’ requirements which should be readily available on the market, such as the Heron TP or the MQ-9 Reaper. This ‘bridging solution’ is to close the gap until a future Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) RPAS, based on a possible joint European development that might be available more than a decade from now.
Air mobility is another one of the Luftwaffe’s seven core capabilities. In December 2014 we have received our first A400M out of 40 aircraft. This represents a real giant stride for the Luftwaffe’s air transport since we are receiving a transport capability that ranges from tactical to almost strategic dimensions. This aircraft is truly state-of-the-art. Starting with training for crews and for maintenance personnel, it is my declared aim to make the A400M operational as quickly as possible. Whilst an increasing number of A400M will be put into service, the robust and reliable C-160 TRANSALL – our workhorse – will leave the forces step by step towards the end of this decade. Thus, the Luftwaffe will not only enlarge its transport capacity but also enhance its air-to-air refuelling capability.
Air and Missile Defence has not only become top priority for the Alliance. It is also one of the main topics for the Luftwaffe. I am expecting that the good results of the Medium Extended Air Defence System (MEADS) development project might be utilized to complement and replace our aging but still capable PATRIOT weapon system. I am convinced that an open architecture framework allowing a step-by-step, modular and multinational approach is paramount to maintain our ground based air defence capability in the future.
The mentioned procurements and new equipment will contribute to the broad spectrum of capabilities the Luftwaffe can offer.
You have mentioned the ‘broad spectrum of capabilities’ the Luftwaffe must be ready to offer. In your opinion, what will be the role of Air Power in future conflicts?
2014 has painfully demonstrated that our picture of a Europe surrounded by friends must be called into question. Today, Europe is rather encircled by sources of insecurity ranging from the Ukraine conflict, the fight against the Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria, the unresolved conflicts in the Middle East, instability in the Maghreb region – particularly Libya – to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa.
Looking into the future, one thing is certain as well: any new potential mission will differ from the previous one. What we know is that the future has never been a repetition of what happened before. In 2015, we will also have to respond to crises we cannot yet know today. In view of all these aspects, the importance of air forces is indisputable, their tasks ranging from classic collective defence with its primarily deterring function to tasks within the scope of international crisis prevention and crisis management.
Therefore, we must strike a new balance in which our contribution to collective defence capabilities has to play a more important role again.
Well-armed military forces, especially air forces with their reach, flexibility and precision, are paramount to guarantee peace and support to the international regime. The decisions taken by NATO nation’s leaders at the Wales Summit in September 2014 are considering these inherent characteristics of air power when mentioning air power capabilities as a vital part of both NATO’s assurance measures and the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which will be established in the near future. Air Forces are a suitable and quick means to respond to an arising crisis.
In that respect, the substantial contributions of the Luftwaffe to the NATO Integrated Air and Missile Defence System (NATINAMDS), common capabilities like AWACS and the NATO Air Command Structure, the European pillar of NATO Nuclear Deterrence, the European Air Transportation fleet, as well as NATO’s precise long range conventional air-to-ground capacities, offer critical capabilities for NATO’s reassurance and deterrence posture.
We must also achieve an appropriate balance between mission-ready and mission-capable deployable forces whose level of mission-readiness allows Germany to make an adequate, credible contribution to the performance of Alliance tasks.
The mission in Afghanistan has just ended. NATO’s Air and Space power capabilities played an important role right from the start. What changes will the Luftwaffe and its NATO allies face after the ISAF mission in Afghanistan?
The ISAF mission was and is not imaginable without proper use of air power.
As I mentioned before, air power will become more dominant in the near future because it enables rapid and tailored effects without deploying huge forces into theatre. Of course, an even more integrated approach to operations, calling for a closely interlinked and well-orchestrated joint campaign, will be required in the future. On the one hand, airpower must enhance its ability to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, as well as supporting joint forces mobility, based on a robust command and control network as well as multirole platforms to deploy modular and scalable weapons. On the other hand, sea and land forces must get the right level of training, equipment and understanding to cooperate with air forces, and vice versa, in order to fully exploit the air power operational advantage. The concept of Air-Surface Integration is therefore one of the focus areas where the Luftwaffe is currently making great efforts to improve our approach to joint campaigns.
We are still entering the post-ISAF era. The Alliance will surely experience a transition that has been labelled as a shift from ‘NATO in operations’ to ‘NATO prepared for operations’. The challenge for all air forces NATO-wide will be to maintain a high overall level of operational readiness. We should be able to deploy into theatres of operations and start a combined and joint operation immediately. Interoperability of our forces is a key element for that. Hence, designing, conducting and evaluating common exercises and training in a smart, efficient and future-oriented way will be paramount to assure NATO air forces’ preparedness for successful multinational operations.
To my understanding, the JAPCC will play a vital role in this respect. It has already proven extremely useful for the development of Air and Space Power. By combining these visions with current and future exercises, especially on the operational and tactical level, focussing on experiences gained from operations and exercises, JAPCC could evolve into an even more relevant think tank for the Alliance. It will be able to offer valuable recommendations on new ways of designing operations and on capabilities to be trained and exercised specifically. In this respect, the Future Vector Project will be a substantial part of NATO’s outlook on the future role of Air and Space Power which is highly welcomed.
Lieutenant General Karl Müllner
is the Chief of German Air Force. He joined the Armed Forces as an NCO candidate in 1976 but changed his career path to become a line officer. In 1982 he graduated as an aircraft commander, F-4F Phantom. From 1983 to 1992 he served as Fighter aircraft commander, flight and weapons instructor as well as flight operations and armament officer and squadron commander at the Fighter Wing 74 ‘Mölders’ (Neuburg). After graduation of the General staff officer training at the Bundeswehr Command and Staff College in Hamburg, he served in various staff positions before he became Commander Flying Group, Fighter Wing 73 ‘Steinhoff’ (Laage) in 1993 and Commander of Fighter Wing 74 ‘Mölders’ (Neuburg). He gained experience in International Military Policy related matters at the MOD both in Bonn and Berlin. In 2007 he was assigned as Commander, 2nd Air Division (Birkenfeld). In 2009 he was appointed as the ACOS, Politico-Military Affairs and Arms Control in the Armed Forces Staff at the MOD in Berlin. Since 2012 he has taken his current position as the Chief of the German Air Force at the German Air Force Headquarters (Berlin-Gatow).