End of “Eagle” augurs beginning of Combined Expeditionary Force.
RAF Leeming hosted a Combined Joint Anglo-French Expeditionary Force of eight RAF Typhoons and four French Air Force (Armée de l'Air) Mirage 2000Ns for Exercise Capable Eagle, which concluded today. Capable Eagle was the air component exercise that ran concurrently with Exercise Joint Warrior. More than 700 RAF, FAF and Army personnel spent the eleven-day exercise working shoulder to shoulder as a corner of the Leeming airfield became a Deployed Operating Base in ‘Dragonia’.
Wing Commander Mike Bracken, the head of Expeditionary Air Wing Operational Training led the planning for the exercise. “Over the last 18 months we’ve been tasked to re-engage with contingency operations for the RAF and in doing so we have looked at the Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW) concept and we’ve tried to reinvigorate a training process to enable our people to face contingency in whatever operational environment they are given.”
Wg Cdr Bracken believed personnel would leave the exercise feeling better prepared for operations and proud that they have been through the first major collective training exercise that the Air Force has delivered since about 2007. “On the CJF (Combined Joint Forces) side we’ve really developed the concept of operation and we will now be able to build on the employment of the CJF. For Marham and Coningsby EAW they are ready at short notice go and deliver what’s required of them for the Air Force.”
Key to the exercise was the deployment of 1(F) Squadron from RAF Leuchars. Officer Commanding, Wing Commander Mark Flewin, explained how it tested the Typhoon’s multi-role capability. “We’ve been involved in a diverse range of mission sets from close air support to multi-role strike missions to defensive counter air.” He went on to explain how closely they have been working with the four Mirage 2000Ns. “We have been seamlessly integrated with the French Air Force throughout the Exercise, both on the ground and in the air, often protecting the Mirages against a significant air threat, and allowing them clear passage to their target sets. “We are both very professional and adaptable air forces and we’ve proven that we can work very effectively together on this exercise, even in austere conditions; I would say that the missions have gone very well indeed and that we have worked and integrated extremely well with our French counterparts. “As part of the on-going Anglo-French defence agreement I would see this as but one of the stepping stones towards a closer relationship, and would see permanent joint exercises very much being a feature of the future exercise landscape.”
The exercise has also provided an opportunity to help medics carry out a pioneering and potentially life-saving equipment test under tactical conditions. The ground-breaking trial involved a C130J Hercules of 47 Squadron deployed on the exercise parachuting a package of simulated blood into the sea for HMS Southampton to pick up.
The magnitude of this exercise has meant that personnel from just about every RAF branch and trade were involved including Gunners, Intelligence Analysts, Medics and even an RAF Lawyer. One group that had an impact on everyone’s morale, in particular the French, were the chefs and stewards of 3 Mobile Catering Squadron who operated at a speed of “534 meals per hour”. "I was really surprised at the quality of the food," said Lieutenant Ben Reymond of 24 Sqn, FAF, a maintenance engineer on the Mirage 2000N. "I did not expect this standard of meals for two reasons: Firstly, because it is English food and, secondly, because it is exercise food. It’s easily as good as anything the French Air Force could produce."
With the possibility of military deployments across the world lasting months rather than days, it falls to the Deployed Operating Base Warrant Officer (DOB WO) to build the airmen’s home from home. Often this means creating a ‘tented village’. This duty fell to RAF Regiment Gunner, Warrant Officer Peter Gallagher. Leading a small mixed team of RAF airmen and Royal Engineers he had just seven days to erect and supply heating and electricity to eighty seven 18 x 24 supersize tents before the main body of French and British personnel arrived. “I’ve got a great sense of satisfaction to think that people are coming in, using the facilities and the camp is being used for what is has been designed for and is being used well.”
As the exercise reached its crescendo the Deployed Operating Base received a visit from Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford and French Air Force Chief of Staff General Denis Mercier. In an address to exercise personnel and international press, Air Chief Marshal Pulford emphasised the importance of the Anglo-French relationship and the value of conducting a joint exercise.“This is an extremely important relationship, not just for today but long into the future.
The Combined Joint Expeditionary Force is really forging the way in the bilateral relationship between our two militaries and our two air forces, allowing the two most powerful, and clearly the best, air forces in Europe to take the lead and bring the rest of Europe along with us.“This is not just about economics, this is about modern military power and the ability to work together, to operate together. It is quite pointless time on time coming together for the first time, as it were and learning about one another. We’ve got to train together, we’ve got to prepare together and we’ve got to develop mutual procedures. That’s what this is about.”
General Mercier added, “It’s very important for me to see our two air forces working together. The cooperation between our forces is not new, it started at the beginning of aviation. But what we are building here is not a co-operation; it is really a command force. I’m very happy with what I’ve seen today. We are ready to be part of this Combined Expeditionary Force.”
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