Mission Foch: High Intensity Air Combat Maneuvers for Rafale Marine of the Carrier Strike Group Alongside Allied Forces in the North Sea
(Source: French Navy; issued March 25, 2020)
(Unofficial translation by Defense-Aerospace.com)
Two Rafale M with their tail hooks extended fly in formation with two Danish Air Force F-16s; Swedish Gripens and unspecified Dutch aircraft also took part in the French carrier group’s exercise in the North Sea. (FR MoD photo)
On March 19-21, pilots of the French Navy’s carrier air group carried out a series of interactions with the Danish, Dutch and Swedish air forces over the North Sea.

The Foch mission, led by the carrier strike group (CSG) formed in Task Force 473 around the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, continues its operations to secure European maritime and territorial approaches and to cooperate with foreign allied forces. On patrol in the North Sea to control its airspace and protect European interests in the area, the CSG carried out interactions with the Danish, Dutch and Swedish allies in its area of operations.

For three days, pilots carried out several simulated air combat in different formats, also training air traffic controllers, aviation tacticians, Combat Vessel Operations Centers and air and ground staffs in high tactical scenarios intensity.

On March 19, in Danish airspace, two Rafale naval aircraft “engaged” two Dutch F-16s guided by Dutch land-based air traffic controllers. Later, four Rafale Marine were given the task of protecting the Carrier Strike Group which came under attacked by four Gripen fighter planes from the Swedish air forces.

The French planes were then guided by the air defense frigate (FDA) Chevalier Paul which assumed the role of ACU (air control unit), responsible for guiding and transmitting the flight information necessary to the pilots to carry out their mission. Swedish fighters were guided by an E-2C Hawkeye from the French carrier.

The next day, the level of training increased for the French pilots and their Rafale Marine which were ordered to attack four Swedish Gripen which “threatened” the carrier strike group. Aircraft from both nations were guided in their mission by Swedish air traffic controllers.

The Danish air force then relayed its Scandinavian partners, with two F-16s supported by two Rafale Marine and having for ACU the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. They then faced in aerial combat two opposing Rafale Marine guided by a French E2C-Hawkeye, previously spotted by the Caïman marine helicopter of the multi-mission frigate (FREMM) FS Bretagne. The helicopter, which operated as a Snooper, was thus responsible for finding and then designating a target for the fighters.

Snooper's role: identifying the target so that it can be engaged

Taking off an hour before the fighters, the Caïman Marine helicopter established the surface situation in the area and then sought its target. When this is spotted, the crew transmits the initial position data to the aircraft carrier, so that the strike formation of fighter planes, in this case four Rafale Marine and F-16, knows the location of their target before takeoff.

Depending on the threat, the Marine Caiman adopts a discreet behavior to avoid the multiple air and surface threats posed by frigates and enemy fighter planes patrolling the area. Once the operation is on, the helicopter descends at low altitude in order to identify targets using its FLIR (Forward Looking Infra-Red) sensor, and then guides the fighters so that they can engage the target discreetly.

Once the engagement is finished, the Caiman Marine reports using its sensors (FLIR, RADAR, passive electronic monitoring and photos) to confirm or not the success of the mission.

High-level interaction for Rafale Marine with allies and partners

These interactions ended on March 21 with a final tactical exercise between two Danish F-16s guided by the FDA Chevalier Paul, required to deal with the aggression of two French Rafale Marine, which were guided by an E-2C Hawkeye of the carrier strike group.

French pilots unanimously praised the quality and professionalism of the Danish, Dutch and Swedish pilots, as well as the excellent coordination between partners, both in the preparation and execution phases.

Lieutenant (Navy) Thomas, a Rafale pilot in the Flotille 12F (12F naval air squadron) who participated in the exercise with the Swedish pilots attests: "The level of tactical coordination was very high, our limits were put to the test, and they as we have learned a lot from these high-level exercises. The fact that we work on the same tactical bases, with the same documentation, facilitates cooperation and interoperability. We came out particularly experienced in these interactions and significantly improved our mutual knowledge and our ability to operate together.”

These three days of high-intensity aeromaritime tactical maneuvers will have made it possible to strengthen the interoperability of the carrier air group with the Danish, Dutch and Swedish air forces, with the aim of working together to protect European approaches.

The CSG thus improves its knowledge and appreciation of the situation in areas of strategic importance in the Atlantic and the North Sea and reaffirms its commitment to guarantee freedom of action and movement with its northern European allies, while standing ready, tomorrow, to engage alongside these allies in theaters of operations.


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