Operation Chammal: Embedding with A Combat Crew
(Source: French Defence HQ; issued Feb 21, 2019)
(Unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
A French Air Force Rafale B omnirole fighter returns from a mission against the Daesch terrorist group in the Iraq-Syria theater of operations to its forward-deployed base in Jordan. (FR AF photo)
The pilot and the weapon system officer / navigator form an inseparable pair on the Rafale two-seater. On the forward-deployed airbase in the Levant, they take off daily on combat missions.


Two trades, two functions, one plane. On the two-seater Rafale, pilot and navigator-weapons system officer (NOSA) form an inseparable pair: they fly together and make up a "combat crew".

The pilot and his NOSA each have a complementary function. "Flying as a combat crew, on a combat mission, means above all having absolute confidence in each other," explains the pilot. Each mission requires a total investment and particularly demanding training.

Taking off from the air base, an initial phase called domestics begins. The pilot manages the position and the trajectory of the aircraft. He also carries out all the communications work with the formation leader and manages in-flight refueling. During this phase, the navigator assists the pilot by anticipating the mission’s management mission in the medium and long term as well as the preparation of the navigation and attack system. After refueling, the Rafale arrives in the combat zone, where the tactical phase begins.

The navigator communicates by radio with the Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC), the advanced ground observer who assists pilots from the ground. "My role is to create a relationship of trust with the JTAC and respond to his demands," explains the navigator.

During this time, the pilot carefully manages the flight of his aircraft in an airspace occupied by the many other coalition aircraft. " During a close air support (CAS) mission, we are surrounded by many drones and other fighters," says the pilot. “You must be extremely vigilant at all altitudes.”

On the ground, the JTAC belonging to the Syrian democratic forces requests surveillance of a given zone. "He asks me to observe and describe an area of interest," explains the navigator. Thanks to the pair of binoculars, the Damocles pod (infrared imaging designator) and the OCAD (connected decision-making tool), the crew observes the area and see a vehicle driving up from the south. It stops and positions itself. On board, three armed individuals, who are identified as enemy combatants. "Immediately, I describe the situation to the JTAC,” says the navigator, who positions a drone on the target.

A few minutes later, the firing order is given to neutralize these fighters who threaten a position of Syrian Democratic Forces. No more noise in the airplane, as the crew knows its procedures by heart. The navigator prepares his system while the pilot places the aircraft on the required flight path.

"When the JTAC declares a target, communications in the cockpit stop,” says the navigator. “The pilot enters the target coordinates, I check the data. Before firing, I reread the JTAC coordinates for the last time from the Weapon System visualization.”

The pilot drops the bomb and the NOSA guides it to the enemy target. Mission accomplished.


Launched on 19 September 2014, Operation Chammal is France’s participation in Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR), and today mobilizes nearly 1,100 soldiers. At the request of the Iraqi government and in coordination with France's allies present in the region, Operation Chammal is based on two complementary pillars: a "training" pillar for Iraqi national security units, and a "support" pillar to assist the action of local forces engaged on the ground against Daesh, and to strike the military capabilities of the terrorist group.

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