British and French commanders have hailed the success of a bilateral air combat exercise staged from a UK base on 7-17 October for strengthening a so-called “entente cordiale” between the nations’ armed forces.
The exercise, dubbed ‘Capable Eagle’, was run from the Royal Air Force’s Leeming base in North Yorkshire under joint command for the first time. It was intended to replicate the challenges faced by an Anglo-French expeditionary air wing during a real-world operation. The activity formed the aerial component of a wider Joint Warrior exercise, which is now held twice a year.
Eight Eurofighter Typhoons from RAF Leuchars-based 1 Sqn took part in the manoeuvres, joined by four Dassault Mirage 2000N strike aircraft from the French air force’s Istres-headquartered 2/4 Sqn, with a total of 700 personnel involved.
“We undertook close air support, sea assault and maritime strike missions as mixed packages, tasked by British [joint terminal attack controllers], twice a day,” says Mirage 2000N pilot Capt Aurelien. “We were simulating weapon release, such as GBU-12 [Paveway precision-guided bombs], and undertaking tanking from a French air force [Boeing] C-135FR and RAF [Lockheed] TriStars.”
Wg Cdr Mark Flewin, officer commanding the RAF’s 1 Sqn, says sorties “would typically see four-to-six Typhoons escorting a package of four Mirage 2000Ns and multiple [Panavia] Tornado GR4s”, supported by an airborne warning and control system asset.
“This is not just about economics”, says RAF chief of the air staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford. “It’s about modern military power and the ability to work and operate together. We’ve got to train together, prepare together and develop mutual procedures together.
“The Combined Joint Expeditionary Force is allowing the two best and clearly most powerful air forces in Europe to take the lead, and bring the rest of Europe along with us. The exercise is demonstrating how we can fly, plan, operate, command and control and undertake all modern airpower roles.”
Pulford’s French counterpart, Gen Denis Mercier, pointed to recent operating experience involving the allies over Libya and Mali. “This is why we want the capability to deploy at very short notice,” he says. “We can now be sure that we have this capability, and we are perhaps the only two air forces in Europe to be able to do so.”
Meanwhile, Flewin says 1 Sqn is on track to receive its first Tranche 2 Typhoons with upgraded P1EA-standard software in late October. To support the introduction of full multi-role capability, this will enable the type to operate with Raytheon Systems’ Paveway IV precision-guided bomb.