German Air Force Chief Aims to Transform Fleet

Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz used master’s degree to streamline operations

As the German Air Force patrols NATO’s eastern border during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the head of the Luftwaffe, Lt. Gen. Ingo Gerhartz (’21), is leading the force into a new phase in difficult times.

“The current situation brings us all close together,” he said. “We are facing an unprecedented act of aggression by the Russian leadership against a sovereign, independent country. It is our task and duty as German Luftwaffe to take responsibility.”

He pointed to the Luftwaffe’s immediate response at the start of the conflict: guarding NATO borders, managing ground-based air defense as well as transporting fuel to Allied squadrons.

Gerhartz joined the Air Force at the age of 19, inspired by Starfighters based in his childhood hometown of Büchel – with runways just 500 yards away from his door. Gerhartz has over 2,500 flying hours as a pilot of F-4F, MIG-29, Tornado and Eurofighter jets. He was chosen to lead the Luftwaffe in 2018. While taking up his new post, he pursued a master’s in aeronautics through Embry-Riddle Worldwide, choosing the university due to its “excellent reputation” in Germany and the Luftwaffe, and the program’s flexibility.

He used his final research project to study the organizational culture of his own fleet, surveying leaders to focus direction — targeting improved communication, clear objectives and a leaner management structure.

“The operational readiness has increased significantly and some of the measures already implemented can be traced back to my studies,” he said.

A major part of the future of the German Air Force is the adoption of the F-35, which is already used by the U.S. and other allies.

“The decision to procure this jet strengthens our ability to secure NATO airspace and defend the alliance together with our partners,” he said. “Joining the F-35 program is an important milestone that will further intensify our ties. Shared weapons systems are the best basis for even closer cooperation.

“Because during these precarious times one truth becomes obvious: Our unity and our friendship are more relevant than ever.”