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Die Deutschen kommen nach Eielson

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is in a food fight with the Air Force over the future of Eielson AFB, but for the present, the airmen stationed there sound like they have plenty to do.

Eielson is hosting eight German Typhoons and about 150 German airmen, the Air Force says, in what it called the first overseas deployment for Germany's Typhoons and the first time any Typhoon has played in the U.S. with American warplanes.

Eielson is -- for now -- the home of the 18th Aggressor Squadron, which is why the German jets and their crews trekked all the way to Alaska for this month's Red Flag exercises. According to the Air Force's official story, the American F-16s and the airspace over Eielson offer something the Germans can't get at home:

German air force Col. Andreas Pfeiffer, the commander of Fighter Wing 74, at Neuburg air base, Germany, said training here is a completely different experience for the German air force, specifically because Alaska provides more air space and accommodates high-caliber coalition training ...

"The (18th) Aggressor Squadron, which provides us with the best training on Earth, is unique -- there is no other training partner like the Aggressors," Pfeiffer said. "If you put all of the factors together, this is probably the highest quality training you could possibly get in modern air combat."

One of the most valuable aspects the 18th AGRS provides is dedicated adversary support that the German air force might not find back home, giving a new perspective for German flying and tactics, said Capt. Cory Farrer, an 18th AGRS F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot.

"It allows us to fly with another ally and integrate with them as well as giving them a large piece of airspace to train in," Farrer said. "The Eurofighter is a very capable and formidable airframe, and it's a great and valuable asset (for our allies)."

The German air force's aim with Red Flag was to bring the Eurofighter into an environment in which its pilots could show their proficiency with the aircraft while being able to learn and enhance their experience level, Pfeiffer said.

"The goals we have for this Red Flag exercise are focused on our wing capabilities, both in terms of logistics as well as techniques, to prove that the Eurofighter is capable of coping with all of the challenges of modern air combat," said Pfeiffer. "At the same time, it's for us to increase our own technical performance and capabilities."

The Air Force has said that moving the 18th Aggressors down to Elmendorf AFB would save $217 million, and it insists there are no plans to close Eielson. One way to read this week's announcement about the Germans praising the base is as a message from the Air Force that it seriously does see Eielson continuing to be a part of the larger landscape.

Begich, however, may not be convinced. As our colleague Michael Hoffman wrote earlier this month, he has asked the service go back and look again at the numbers it generated for the move of the 18th Aggressors. Begich said he'd hold up on the Senate nominations of key Air Force leaders, including its next chief of staff, until he got the answers he was looking for.

It'll be interesting to see whose case this helps: Begich could argue the combination of the base and the squadron is what the Germans wanted, but the Air Force could say it's the crews and their jets that really matter -- and there are plenty of other bases where they could fly.

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