The two-week exercise ended with the traditional award ceremony, with the German TaktLwG74 winning the Silver Tiger Trophy.
The 59th edition of the NATO Tiger Meet was successfully completed on Oct.13, 2023, at Gioia del Colle Air Base, Italy. The massive exercise, at its first edition in Italy after 35 years, saw 80 aircraft from 12 countries training together in the skies of southern Italy, with 1,100 sorties and over 800 hours flown during the nine days of flight operations.
With operations involving the airspace of Puglia, Calabria and Basilicata regions and the airspace near Sardinia island, the drills were useful to perfect the interoperability of assets in Large Force Employment (LFE) scenarios involving air defence and air interdiction missions, support to troops on the ground (Close Air Support, CAS) or search and recovery of personnel in a hostile environment (Personnel Recovery – PR).
Similarly to other LFE exercises hosted recently in Italy, like Falcon Strike 2022 last year, the areas assigned to the exercise spun from Apulia to the Tyrrhenian Sea, and gave the participants ample space to train on all assigned tasks, including stand-off attacks and Beyond Visual Range intercepts, during the two main waves that were launched every day. The employment of the weapons was simulated, with no actual ordnance (both real and inert) released at any point.
A GFD Learjet 35 equipped with a Thread Simulator Pod (TSP) provided a realistic representation of radar targets and missiles. More surface-to-air threats were replicated by using a Sirius MAADS (Medium Advanced Air Defence System) deployed to Calabria and inflatable decoys. A KC-130J and KC-767 provided air-to-air refueling, while a G550 CAEW and an E-3 AWACS provided command and control (in addition to the two E-2 Hawkeyes deployed to Gioia del Colle).
During flying days, the morning was usually reserved for COMposite Air Operations of increasing complexity and involving all the participants. During the afternoon, most participants flew local missions, in dissimilar formations too, also called Shadow Waves, which also included Electronic Warfare (EW), Basic Fighter Manoeuvring (BFM), Air Combat Manoeuvring (ACM) and Slow Mover Interceptor (SMI).
Due to the growing helicopter force within the NTA members and their heavy use in today’s conflicts, rotary-wing assets were integrated within the COMAO mission as Forward Air Controllers, insertion and extraction of ground forces, support of Special Ops, Combat Search And Rescue and so on. This year’s edition saw the involvement of Italian HH-101s and French SA-342M Gazelle and EC665 Tigre helicopters, which often flew together in mixed formations.
With one of the Tiger Meet’s objectives being maximizing integration and interoperability with NATO members, it was interesting to see mixed formations launching for the training missions, such as a two-ship flight with an Italian and a German Eurofighter 2000 who flew together during the Spotters’ Day. Another notable training event was an Elephant Walk with 41 aircraft, which took place following a quick turnaround after the return of the main wave during the Spotters’ Day.
As usual, the Tiger Meet alternates high-level tactical training missions with various traditional social events, such as the International Night and the Tiger Games. Also, on the final day, the winners of the various trophies were announced. This year, the Silver Tiger Trophy and the best Tiger Aircraft were won by the Bavarian Tigers of the German Air Force’s TaktLwG 74.
In fact, one of the highlights of the exercise was the presence of many Special Color aircraft. As explained in the past, the main difference between NTM and many other “traditional” exercises is that many aircraft taking part in the drills, at least one (but usually more than one) per participating unit, sport Tiger markings, Special Tails or flamboyant tiger-themed paint schemes.
Continuing with the winners, the 31 Smaldeel of the Belgian Air Force won the Tiger Games of this edition of NTM and the Best OPS Trophy, while the Turkish Air Force’s 192 Filo won the Best Uniform Trophy and the French Air Force ECE 1/30 won the Best Skit Trophy. With the end of NTM23, the location for the 60th edition of the exercise, the NATO Tiger Meet 2024, have been announced: Schleswig Air Base in Germany, home of the TaktLwG 51/1, which will host the exercise from June 3 to June 13, 2024.