Europe Sends Air Power To The Indo-pacific After Flexing Its Naval Muscles
During a recent military exercise near New Caledonia, the made-up island of “Badland” looked like it was going to attack its neighbour, “Goodland.” France decided to send air assets to the area because its territory was at risk. The goal was to get to the theatre in three days.
On August 13, three Dassault Rafale fighters, two Airbus A330 multi-role tanker transports (MRTTs), and two A400M Atlas transport aircraft flew from France to the South Pacific on time. The group stopped for a short time in Sulur, India, and Darwin, Australia, to get fuel.
Once in the area, Paris watched a live feed from the MRTT aircraft to see what was going on. They then told the Rafale pilots to destroy the enemy’s logistics base.
The drill was part of Mission Pegase 2022, which the French Air and Space Force is doing right now for five weeks. It happens at the same time as a similar drill called “Rapid Pacific 2022” by the German Air Force. In that drill, Germany sent six Eurofighter jets and seven support planes from Germany to Singapore in just 24 hours.
France, Germany, and the United Kingdom (U.K.) have been sending ships and ships’ equipment to the Indo-Pacific. Europe feels like it’s important to show that they can be in the area quickly, not in weeks but in days, by sending out more air power.
The drills were led by Maj. Gen. Stephane Groen, chief of staff of the French Air and Space Force’s Air Operations Command and commander of the drills. He told Nikkei Asia that the goal was to show that they could use air power to protect either their own territory or the territory of an ally.
Groen said, “The fact that we are trying to do this kind of air power projection in the Pacific is a clear sign” of how determined the French are to protect the sovereignty of the countries in the area.
He said, “We are a country in the Indo-Pacific. We have more than 2 million people living in the Pacific and Southwest Asia, and our exclusive economic zone is about 9 million square kilometres.”
Mission Pegase began on August 10 and is now in its third and last stage. During this phase, the French convoy and 170 people will move from Darwin to Indonesia and Singapore before going back home.
Groen will be in Singapore from Wednesday to Friday to show how important France thinks Singapore is as its most important partner in Southeast Asia. The French Air Force said in a press release that Singapore is very important because it is “a fulcrum for our operations in the area.”
At the Shangri-La Dialogue, which was held in the city-state in June, the two countries signed an agreement to help each other with logistics.
The French planes will land at the Paya Lebar Air Base of the Singapore Air Force in the country’s east. “The logistical agreement will be put into action for the first time when we go there,” Groen said.
A press release said that the drill would be the farthest France’s air force has ever gone, at 18,000 kilometres from its own territory.
Michito Tsuruoka, an associate professor of international security and European politics at Japan’s Keio University, said that France may send troops to the South Pacific as a precaution if something happens in the South China Sea or on Taiwan. “These drills help us get ready for this kind of situation,” he said.
“Air assets can be moved faster than maritime assets, so the air force and navy are likely to work together in the Indo-Pacific,” Tsuruoka said.
Since tensions between the U.S. and China are getting worse, this could be a more likely scenario than you might think.
Some analysts aren’t sure how important it is for Europe to show its power in the Indo-Pacific, since it has a small presence there compared to the U.S. military, which has tens of thousands of troops and dozens of ships already in the area. Some people have said that the Europeans should focus on protecting Europe from Russia so that the U.S. can pay more attention to China.
But Tsuruoka has written that “a situation in which different allies focus on different threats and challenges in different theatres will lead to wider perception gaps between them, making it harder to work together on China, Russia, or other strategic agendas.”
“It is too early to dismiss Europe’s military engagement in the region,” he said, even though it is fair to wonder what Europe can really bring to the Indo-Pacific.
Tsuruoka said that Europe’s involvement in the Indo-Pacific region and the role it plays in its own neighbourhood can’t be seen as a “either-or” choice. “Europe needs to do both as long as both are important for its own safety.”