Tag Archives: Dassault Rafale

We Flew Red Air against F-22 Raptors, F-35 Lightning IIs, Rafales and Typhoons in Atlantic Trident ’17. Here’s How It Went.

Flying adversary air in a 71st Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) T-38A Talon during Atlantic Trident 17.

At 21,000 ft “Code” rolls the Talon inverted.  I have just enough time to realize we are inverted – before the Gs started building and we are pointed… down. Straight down.    We are flying adversary air in a 71st Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) T-38A Talon during Atlantic Trident ’17.  Not your normal Red Air vul, today we are facing off against a historic gathering of the most formidable fighter aircraft in the western world.

The United States Air Force (USAF) 1st Fighter Wing located at Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE) hosted the event.  1st FW is responsible for 30% of the USAF Raptor fleet.  Described as “America’s premier Air Dominance wing,” the 1st FW is elite company.  This group (with the help of the 71st FTS) ensures the Raptors under their command are maintained, manned by skilled pilots, and ready to go when and where needed worldwide, at a moment’s notice.

After two days of rain and scrubbed vuls the clouds began to lift.  Didn’t matter, even with clear skies a nasty storm was brewing over the Atlantic, Typhoons, Lightning strikes, with the “gusts of wind / bursts of fire” (Rafale), and the “Bird of Prey” (Raptor) circling over it all.  Not a Hollywood script, this is what awaits the Strike Eagles and Talons of Red Air posing as a variety of MIG threats with specific missile emulations.

The Platforms & Players:

Blue Air: 1st FW F-22A Raptors; Eglin AFB F-35A Lightning IIs; Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoons; French Air Force/Armée de l’air Dassault Rafales.

Red Air: 71st FTS “Ironmen” T-38A Talons; 391st FS “Bold Tigers” F-15E Strike Eagles from Mountain Home AFB, ID.

Given operational security, some of the following flight details are principally correct.

The six participating Talons flew in two flights of three, “Vodka” and “MIG”.  The Strike Eagle flights “Marlin” and “Dagger” combined to form another 6 aircraft.  12 Red Air with E-3A Sentry support, against 16 Blue Air.  Given Blue Air was farthest from JBLE and launched first, they enjoyed tanker support from the Armée de l’air KC-135, as well as US tanker units (including at one point a KC-10 from the 305th AMW Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst).

What could we expect of the vul?

Red Air understood that Blue Air was tasked with a strike mission (target location unknown to Red Air) using the Rafale and Raptor as strikers.  While some might think the F-35As should have been the strikers, Raptor was the word and Raptors do have a very effective strike capability. The rest of Blue Air, Typhoons and Lightning IIs (and perhaps a mix of Raptors) were flying escort protecting the strikers.

Blue Air was challenged to employ “total force integration” across nationalities and platforms to form a multilayered, overlapping sphere of impenetrable “armor.”  Certainly, Blue Air would utilize their superior sensors to create a 3D picture of the battle space and their state of the art weapons to “destroy” Red Air well beyond visual range (BVR).

Red Air would utilize dissimilar threats against Blue Air coming from a multitude of directions and altitudes.  The Talons and Strike Eagles primary goal: to find the Blue Air strikers (call sign “Rogue”), fight through the escorts to get within an effective (emulated) missile envelope and realize a kill.  However, even if a visual on a Raptor or Lightning II was realized (and Red Air had the radar capability) they would still be “chasing a mirage” and could not expect to get a lock. Great.

Total force integration of the Gen 5 and 4.5 platforms creates a nasty dilemma for a real adversary.  At the best of times target fixation is deadly, add 5th Gen assets in the mix – fatal.

While the scenario sounds like a futile effort for Red Air, it is key to understand that this exercise is not a game where the highest kills wins.  Rather, the primary purpose of the exercise is to ensure Blue Air (our collective nations fighting edge) refine Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs).  With common, familiar TTPs, the coalition will quickly come together in the face of a future conflict and be effective, day one.

The coalition of Blue Air was challenged to maximize their mix to most efficiently use each aircraft’s exceptional capabilities, weapons loads and available fuel.  The best efforts of Red Air would test the tactics of Blue Air, to ensure they overlook nothing, and responded correctly to the dynamic of the fight.  If a Blue Air participant required a learning lesson – it was up to Red Air to provide it, and this is the right time and place to do so.  Perhaps in the “fog of war” an area of the formation would be left uncovered, and Red Air would get a leaker through to do some damage.

The 71st FTS “Langley Adversaries” fields young pilots preparing for the Raptor as well as seasoned Raptor pilots and pilots with plenty of experience in alternate platforms.  One look at the markings on the F-15E Strike Eagles of the “Bold Tigers” and it was clear there is plenty of combat experience in those cockpits.  No question, this group of pilots had the ability to take down a Blue Air player.  In a previous visit to the 71st FTS I met one of the T-38 pilots who had done that very thing.  I expect it was a lesson that resonated with the Raptor pilot.

Waiting in open cockpit at the end of runway (EOR) Blue Air completes their launches, and our teammates in F-15Es thunder down the runway in glorious afterburner.  Following MIG flight, Vodka flight of Talons launches last, one at a time in rapid succession.

We form up at 2,000 ft before punching through the clouds in formation.  I’m back seat of Vodka #3 flown by “Code,” (1st Lt.) in tight our flight lead #1 “Shim” (Maj.) and #2 “HOTAS” (Maj).  Within seconds we break through the clouds and the Talons look like beautiful black darts in the blue sky.  The SR-71 Blackbird clearly established that “black jets” are the coolest, so we are in good company.  The aircraft are stable and the pilots smooth. We stay in formation as we climb to altitude on the way to the fight.

T-38As of Langley Adversaries, 71st FTS “Ironmen” Vodka 1 & Vodka 2 during Atlantic Trident ’17 range bound. Flying out of Joint Base Langley-Eustis.

MIG flight is now far to the southeast working the opposite flank.  Marlin and Dagger are well above us in their own airspace blocks working the higher altitudes.  Red Air is tightening the noose. At altitude and nearing our block, Vodka 1 indicates he will run in on Blue Air from 10,000 ft below us.  The Talon drops away so fast my perspective is forever altered.  A high-performance aircraft allows the pilot to carve the sky at will shrinking time and space in ways grounded mortals cannot know.

Atlantic Trident 17 Red Air, 71st FTS Ironmen (T-38 Talon – Vodka Flight) and the 391st Bold Tigers (F-15E Strike Eagles – Marlin & Dagger Flights) RTB after DCA iwth a Blue Air Strike package of 1st FW F-22 Raptors, Eglin AFB F-35 Lightinging II’s, French Rafale’s and UK Typhoons.

With “go time” quickly closing in, Vodka 2 moves some distance from us.  Flying almost parallel we form a wall approaching Blue Air.  Red Air is attacking in numbers from many different directions and altitudes.  Perhaps Blue Air will miss one of us as we close rapidly and a striker will fall!

We now appear to be alone in the sky, a single gunslinger in the expanse with weapons armed and ready against impossible odds.  Focus and activity keep the thought at bay, the controllers voice a clear reminder that we are part of a much greater force and we do not fight alone.

“Fights On!” and we fly our vector like an adversary, oblivious to the invisible danger that lurks unseen in the distant (or near) sky. The next 45 minutes is something of a blur.  The controller calls a heading, we turn – someone turns, there is a lot going on in the skies.  The tempo increases, the radio crackling with voices.  Controllers in the E-3A are busy directing and working what sounds like play by play of an intense play-off game.  An intense play-off between warfighters.

Through the intercom, Code warns “G’s!”  I have split second to prepare for a snap turn and the onset of G’s.  Code is kind, the G’s are short-lived and light – well under 3.  Within moments I hear the radio crackle, “Vodka 1 you’re dead,” followed by “Vodka 2 you’re dead.”  Our flight is being picked off like tin cans on fenceposts.   I wait to hear Vodka 3 you’re dead – but silence.  I’m thinking, c’mom Code, this is our chance let’s press, I could use a kill on my resume.  Marlin 1, Dagger 2 No, No – not the Strike Eagles!  The comms crackle in warfighter shorthand, best deciphered by those who speak in this language.   With a sense of the inevitable, I hear it “Vodka 3 you’re dead.”  No sympathy, just cold, matter of fact.  It is done.  I don’t know what killed us, but we were shadow boxing with a lethal foe.

As we turn to regenerate it is clear this is not a fair fight. But that is the point, and why the tremendous investment in the 5th Gen aircraft.  The USAF has no intention to fight fair, they have built their force to dominate the air.  They who own the air will find it much easier to own the ground and sea.  Looking straight up far above us I see a silver spec blazing across the sky contrail in tow at what appears to be supersonic speeds.  A Raptor? It flies with impunity, we are mere spectators.  If this was a real fight, seeing such a sight would be a great signal to RTB (return to base).  Quickly.

After regen we return to the fight flying a designated vector.  Code rolls the Talon inverted, and pulls briefly into a vertical descent and then a great diving arc.  I had about as much as 1/10th a second to prepare for that, and 1/5 a second to enjoy it. Thank-you very much.

The fight is on! Red Air inverted and going for a 10,000 ft drop with the 71st FTS “Ironmen” T-38 Talon flown by Lt. S. Harlow, “Code.”

At some point, we pull near 4G, and the prospects have my undivided attention; will I weight 1,000 lbs today, or just 750?  I am told the pilots generally do not notice the physical, it is muscle memory that kicks in while their mind is focused on the battle.  I am glad to hear that, I’d certainly hate to lose my train of thought in such a time and place.  The Talon bottoms out 10,000 ft below where the maneuver started, and we climb all the way back to 20,000 ft.  It takes a minute to perform the massive maneuver.  And then I believe I hear music – “Rogue 1” you’re dead.  Did we get a Blue Air Striker?  Perhaps for all the Red Air jets that fell – perhaps we got one…

45 minutes’ pass in the vul, and we break for RTB.  Code directs me to the right, where descending from much higher airspace, four F-15Es of the 391st FS.  In tight formation, the Strike Eagles of Marlin and Dagger flights bob up and down like joined parts of a living being.  Magic.  Magic always ends leaving you wanting more, that’s how you know it is magic.

Some Atlantic Trident ’17 Red Air – F-15Es of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” (Marlin & Dagger Flights) and T-38A of the 71st FTS “Ironmen” (Vodka Flight) RTB after vul.

Atlantic Trident 17 Red Air, 71st FTS Ironmen (T-38 Talon – Vodka Flight) and the 391st Bold Tigers (F-15E Strike Eagles – Marlin & Dagger Flights) RTB after DCA iwth a Blue Air Strike package of 1st FW F-22 Raptors, Eglin AFB F-35 Lightinging II’s, French Rafale’s and UK Typhoons.

Some may ask, “What is it like to fly adversary against the most lethal integrated fighter force on the planet?” My answer, “You just die. Sight unseen. You just die.”

Bury your pride, and get used to dying.  But do not forget, your “death” serves a greater purpose. 

The seemingly futile fight and subsequent “deaths” are critical to ensure the readiness of the cutting edge of our warfighters, and “Total Air Dominance.”

For Previous Report on Atlantic Trident ’17 including compelling comments by 1st FW Commander Peter “Coach” Fesler Click Here.

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to Jeffrey Hood 633 ABW PA and the entire 633 ABW Public Affairs Team who were instrumental and exceptional with their support; Col. Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 Fighter Wing Commanding Officer, and the 71st FTS, pilots, support, medical and others were beyond exceptional hosts. The entire team at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, professional and gracious throughout the visit.  You set the bar, we can but hope to capture and share a small reflection.

 

Atlantic Trident 17 brought together in type and capability the most formidable combination of fighter aircraft ever assembled.

Atlantic Trident 17 Drives a Higher Level of Integration.

The exercise held April 12 – 28 at Joint Base Langley-Eustice (JBLE) included a “Blue Air” force of USAF F-22 Raptors of the 1st Fighter Wing (FW) JBLE and F-35 Lightning IIs from Eglin AFB, Typhoons of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Rafales of the French Air Force/Armée de l’Air (FAF).

The adversaries or “Red Air” included USAF F-15E Strike Eagles of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID and T-38A Talons of the 71st Fighter Training Squadron (FTS) “Ironmen” based at JBLE.  Additional assets included the E-3A Sentry from Tinker AFB, OK and a variety of tankers, including a FAF KC-135 and KC-10 of the 305th Air Mobility Wing (AMW) out of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ.

Aside from the primary training objectives the exercise also provided the opportunity to commemorate 100 years of aerial combat cooperation between the French and US stemming back to WWI.

From the outside, looking in the lethal capabilities of Blue Air appeared to be overwhelming, with Red Air offering little challenge.  However, one must consider that the 71st FTS “Ironmen” fly daily as adversaries against the Raptor and possess pilots with Raptor experience.  These factors (along with the sheer numbers of Red Air fielded and their ability to “regenerate” on range) provide Red Air with the best likelihood to exploit any vulnerabilities or errors with Blue Air’s tactics – regardless their impressive platforms.

Towards the end of the exercise The Aviationist sat down with Colonel Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 FW Commander to discuss the exercise and the evolution of air combat in the context of 5th Gen aircraft.

Fesler noted that Atlantic Trident ’17 took integration beyond historical practice. On a tactical level integration historically involved a serial employment of aircraft (such as a Combat Air Patrol of RAF Typhoons) or geographical deconfliction of aircraft (such as FAF assets attacking ground targets in a designated area).  However, as Fesler explained starting with Red Flag 17-1 integration has gone deeper, involving a variety of platforms in the same airspace at the same time.  Integration between platforms also considered the various loiter time and weapons load/type for a given platform over a given vulnerability period (vul – the period of time when an aircraft is vulnerable to harm).

RAF Typhoons on the ramp with Strike Eaglesat Joint Base Langley-Eustis during Atlantic Trident ’17.

While not being specific, it is not difficult to envision a mixed strike package of Rafales and F-35s, a combat air patrol (CAP) of Typhoons and Raptors (or mix and match on any given mission set).  This level of integration leads to big challenges for an adversary who may easily be fixated on attacking a detected Gen 4.5 aircraft, while getting blindsided by a 5th Gen platform or be distracted by a 5th Gen threat “sensed” in the area and get bounced by a very capable Typhoon or Rafale. Hesitation in such air to air combat will most likely be punished with an ending in a ball of flames.

Dassualt Rafales of the Armée de l’air – French Air Force on the ramp at JBLE during Atlantic Trident ’17

The abundance of information available on the battlefield today drives a much higher level of integration.  Fesler noted that multiple people/assets may be involved with the finding, identifying and targeting portion of an air to air encounter. The pilot may take care of the final step and fire the missile that kills the target, but wouldn’t have found their way to that merge unless the assets got them there.

Atlantic Trident ’17 provided an opportunity to demonstrate how the advancement of aircraft, tactics and integration is driving change in the function of the fighter force.  For many years, the F-22 Raptor has utilized its superior sensors and SA to take the role of “quarterback” during a vul.  Given the integration of the F-35 and with the capabilities of the Typhoon and Rafale, the notion of a “single quarterback” is changing.  Frankly, per Fesler, the quarterback notion is starting to become almost a misnomer now in that we have multiple quarterbacks and it’s less about one individual directing everything and more about multiple nodes of information being able to provide the key pieces of information at the right time to influence the fight.  It is a foreboding thought for an adversary who now faces a team, where every position has the intelligence/capability of a hall of fame quarterback, even while performing their specific role at the highest level.

F-22 Raptors of the 1st FW JBLE wait for launch clearance at the EOR during Atlantic Trident ’17.

Performing at a high level is one thing, altering the playing field is another.  The 5th Gen aircraft has done that very thing, altering the classic air to air engagement in a fundamental way.  Fesler noted, the classic approach of shooting ones missiles and turning before the adversary can get a shot is predicated on the fact that the adversary sees you.  In the 4th gen world that is the case.  Ideally the pilot would like to be able to shoot, let their missile do the work and get away before the adversary can get a missile off.  In the 5th Gen world, the adversary doesn’t necessarily know where you are coming from.  The 5th Gen pilot may shoot a missile and monitor to make sure it is effective.  If the missile misses for any number of reasons, they are in good position for a follow-up shot.

F-22 Raptor of the 1st Fighter Wing JBLE taxis towards launch during Atlantic Trident ’17.

That is one of the fundamental difference between 4th Gen fighters and 5th Gen fighters.  In general, in the 5th Gen world the adversary doesn’t really know where you are coming from.  They may have a general idea but not a lot of specifics.  For 5th Gen pilots it’s a good place to be, to be able to roam around the battlefield faster than the speed of sound in an airplane that is largely undetectable all while your airplane is building a 3 dimensional picture of everything within a couple hundred miles of you. Ouch.

F-35A from Eglin AFB moves towards launch for a vul during Atlantic Trident ’17 exercise held at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA.

Aside from the exceptional technical aspects that fascinate and draw attention, Felser ultimately notes that his takeaways from Atlantic Trident ‘17 fall back to the human aspect; “fighter pilots are fighter pilots regardless of what their uniforms look like.  Aircraft maintainers are aircraft maintainers regardless of what their uniforms look like.  There are some universal experiences, beliefs and cultures that transcend the national boundaries in this and that’s one of the things I have enjoyed out of both Tri-lateral exercises (2015 & AT ‘17) that we’ve had.  The man in the machine still makes a difference. You can have the most lethal fighter in the world but if you make a mistake a far inferior aircraft can shoot you out of the sky. Training still matters.  If that were not the case, we’d buy the machines, park them and never fly them and when war kicked off jump in them and go and fly. That in fact is not the case and you can lose a war with the best equipment if you don’t know how to use it right, if your tactics aren’t sound, if your skills aren’t automatic, you can still lose.”

F-15E of the 391st FS “Bold Tigers” Mountain Home AFB, ID launches from JBLE for Red Air Vul during Atlantic Trident ’17

Atlantic Trident ‘17 reveals the way forward; advanced integration, people making a difference, and high level training.  This rationale drives the Air Force ensuring it is ready with the highest capability for the next conflict on day 1.

Fourth and fifth-generation aircraft from the U.S. Air Force, French air force and Royal air force fly in a training airspace during ATLANTIC TRIDENT 17 near Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., April 26, 2017. The F-35 Lightning II was incorporated in the exercise, along with the F-22 Raptor and fourth-generation assets to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that can be used during future coalition fights. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard)

The Aviationist expresses gratitude to Jeffrey Hood 633 ABW PA and the entire 633 ABW Public Affairs Team who were instrumental and exceptional with their support; Col. Pete “Coach” Fesler, 1 Fighter Wing Commanding Officer, and the entire 1 FW; the entire team at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, professional and gracious throughout the visit.  You set the bar, our service people are the finest.

Image credit: Todd Miller, unless otherwise stated.

 

French Rafale aircraft intercept the U.S. B-52 bomber that performed Lafayette Escadrille Memorial flyover

The celebrations for the centenary of Lafayette squadron provided an interesting intercept opportunity.

The Lafayette Escadrille is one of the most famous U.S. squadron to operate in France before and during WWI.

It was formed on April 20, 1916 by 38 U.S. volunteer pilots who flew under French command a year before the U.S. entered into the conflict.

A memorial celebrates not only the 38 original pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille, but all 269 American pilots who flew with the French Air Force as part of the larger Lafayette Flying Corps, 68 of whom were killed during the war and are interred at the memorial crypt.

B-52 escorted by Rafale 2

During the ceremony held at the Lafayette Escadrille Memorial in Marnes-la-Coquette, France, on Apr. 20, to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the squadron’s formation, one B-52, four F-22 Raptor fighters (from their deployment base at RAF Lakenheath), three FAF Mirage 2000Ns, one FAF Rafale and a World War I-era Stearman PT-17 biplane performed flyovers during the ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Layfette Escadrille’s formation.

Interestingly, the (somehow) rare flight of the B-52 strategic bomber inside the French airspace provided an interesting opportunity to the French Air Force Rafale that practiced an interception on the Stratofortress and took some cool air-to-air images (as happened last year when Dutch F-16s intercepted and escorted a “Buff” involved in a round-trip mission from Barksdale AFB to the Arctic and North Sea regions respectively).

B-52 escorted by Rafale 3

Image credit: French Air Force

 

TriLateralEx 2015 Final Report: F-22s, Typhoons and Rafales prepare for Future Air Warfare

The exercise featured the cutting edge air dominance aircraft in service today.

The inaugural Trilateral Exercise held Dec. 2-18 at Joint Base Langley-Eustis (JBLE) in Virginia not only represented a visible component of the collaboration between Allies, it also provided the back drop for the leadership of the respective Air Forces to lay out future challenges and direction.

The United States Air Force (USAF) F-22 Raptor, the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoon, the French Air Force (FAF) Dassault Rafale (Blue Air), were complemented by the USAF E-3G Block 40/45 AWACS, and supplemented (Red Air) by the USAF T-38 Talon and F-15E Strike Eagle.

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Colonel Broadwell, the Commander of the 1st Operations Group based at JBLE commented that the exercise was “an unprecedented opportunity. The three premier fighter aircraft of these nations had not previously trained together, and it was great to train with them, rather than just meet them in the theater (AOR).”

RAF 3 Sqn EU Typhoon FGR4 readies for launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

RAF 3 Sqn EU Typhoon FGR4 readies for launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Contrary to popular thought, the exercise had little to do with air warfare taking place today over Syria and Iraq.

Colonel Michel Friedling, Chief of the Air Force planning bureau within the French Ministry of Defense noted Our role is to think beyond what is going on right now so we can maintain air superiority in future air operations. Our job is to imagine the way we can operate together in a contested environment, for the next decade.”

RAF EU Typhoon taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

RAF EU Typhoon taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Progress made since the TriLateral Initiative was announced in 2010 has the United Kingdom, France and the United States featuring regular officers not just at the exchange level as pilots, but as regular appointees in the strategic steering groups. Allied steering of strategy demonstrates a tremendous degree of trust and speaks of the closeness and importance of these relationships.

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

Leadership consistently made the point that the TriLateral Exercise was in many ways a counterpoint to that type of air warfare experienced in the past 15 to 25 years that has shown no substantial threat to allied air dominance in a theater of war.

General Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff USAF noted, “I think the big benefit of the exercise is that these three air forces have capability that many air forces don’t. This exercise places our air crews, maintenance crews, intelligence support teams in a scenario that is more demanding than the ones we have recently seen around the world. As such it prepares us for a future operating environment that may be more difficult than what we have been fighting in, and is really an important step to refocusing on that full spectrum fight that we have not been involved with in recent years but is always a potential in the future.”

French Armee De L'Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

French Armee De L’Air Rafale C taxis to launch during the TriLateral Exercise at JBLE.

In a similar vein of thought, Chief of the Air Staff (RAF), Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford noted that in many ways, due to the operational pace and the type of uncontested air warfare the RAF has been involved in “the higher end skills to deal with air warfare in the contested space have been reduced, and they are now working a defined program to bring baseline skills up.”

FrAF Dassualt Rafale launches from JBLE during the TriLateral Exercise.

FrAF Dassualt Rafale launches from JBLE during the TriLateral Exercise.

More specifically General Frank Gorenc, Commander USAFE noted, “the exercise is focused on utilizing the capabilities of the aircraft to penetrate Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) environments, places where potential adversaries have taken what are very complex, very capable surface to air missile systems putting them together in a way that they are layered. This provides a redundancy in the same air space with the express purpose of making sure that whatever area we are talking about cannot be attacked from the air.”

Some of the most effective and sophisticated systems that support A2AD are the Russian S-300 and S-400 air defense systems. These systems (and like) are proliferating around the globe at an alarming rate. While not being specific in naming the systems or potential theaters, General Mark Welsh noted that while there may be “10 integrated Air Defense systems in the world today, they anticipate that there will be 25 such systems deployed globally in 10 years.” The Air Force must be able to “dismantle them, create lanes – until then, the military cannot can’t perform effective land and sea operations.”

One can certainly see the three featured aircraft and the incoming F-35 (and additional weapons systems like the EA-18 Growler) playing a critical part in “creating lanes” through an area featuring advanced A2AD.

To those ends the 5th generation Raptor, and 4.5 generation Typhoon and Rafale took to the skies multiple times a day to refine Tactics, Techniques and Procedures (TTPs). Primary objectives included simply learning to communicate effectively, and then utilizing each platforms strengths to defeat A2AD environments.

USAF F-22 Raptor taxis past line up RAF Typhoons at the inaugural TriLateral exercise JBLE.

USAF F-22 Raptor taxis past line up RAF Typhoons at the inaugural TriLateral exercise JBLE.

General H. Carlisle, Commander Air Combat Command USAF noted that they are “three great aircraft – together they can do so much more than they can individually because they bring strengths that complement each other and make the whole force that much better.”

To assist in the realism, F-15E Strike Eagles (Seymour Johnson AFB, NC) and T-38 Talon adversary aircraft (JLBE) flew as adversaries to the missions. The missions also featured the completely upgraded and recently deployed E-3G Block 40/45 Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and various tanker aircraft.

One of the clear messages of the exercise was the commitment to leverage and maintain a technological edge in the future Air Force. Technology will be critical to address the full spectrum threats in a given theater; Surface to Air missile systems, Air to Air platforms, Electronic Warfare, Cyberattack and more.

General Mark Welsh noted, “For the last 15 years we’ve been focused on an environment that is very permissive and as a result the legacy systems we’ve had in our air force that made us great for the last 50 years have been very successful. We must modernize our air force so that we’re great for the next 50 years, and unfortunately there’s nothing operationally today that is driving that modernization except threats that could emerge. What’s very clear in lessons learned from this exercise is that the technical capability that we bring to the fight will continue to drive success or failure. Air forces that fall behind the technology curve will fail, and we can’t let that happen.”

The cost of deploying sophisticated and technologically advanced systems is high (F-22, F-35, LRS-B) and requires a careful balance to ensure adequate force size is maintained. General Mark Welsh commented to that, “we have to maintain a balance of capability, capacity and readiness. The price of systems has prohibited us from buying all top end equipment over time. Quantity does have a quality all its own in this business, especially if you are expected to respond to multiple places and we are a global Air Force. And so we are going to have to look at a high low mix of capability. But we must modernize the high-end capability and then reduce cost in providing capability for the low threat spectrum. We’re going to have to do that. And we have to be allowed to divest some of the capability that made us great in order to invest in the things that will make us great. We have to be able to do that. There are some tough decisions that have to be made, or our policy makers need to decide how they want to use their instrument of national power in a different way then we have been using it.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford referenced the United Kingdom’s recent political response to the same dynamic, “my own Air Force is now smaller arguably than it’s been in its service history, but it’s also I would argue in so many ways the most potent that it’s ever been. And that balance between investment and financial challenges of investment in technology and pure numbers is one that you’ve only got to look at this recent Defense & Security Review in the UK to see what the British Government were able to do. They recognized that there was an aspect when it came to numbers and we are adding two additional Typhoon Squadrons to the mix and additional F-35 Lightning’s brought into the mix, that weren’t in the plan. They have looked at the balance between money available and threat and they have decided to invest arguably for the first time in some time in the Royal Air Force, Royal Navy and the British Army.”

The value of the face to face interaction among flight crew, engineers, intelligence officers and support teams during the TriLateral Exercise was recognized. Communication methods, operational practices and tactical approaches were refined between aircraft and the respective air forces. It is anticipated that there will be regular TriLateral exercises in the future, some of which will likely be held in the UK and France.

Inaugural TriLateral Exercise at JBLE with Rafale, Raptor & Typhoon

Inaugural TriLateral Exercise at JBLE with Rafale, Raptor & Typhoon

General Antoine Crux, the French Air Force Inspector General commented on the importance of the exercise, “this exercise is very important for us for we are preparing not only for war we have been fighting and have fought for years but also for the war where for example air superiority will not be granted. So we need to be sure that we will be ready to operate together very quickly on day one, as soon as our political leaders will ask.” It appears that the exercise has been very successful, and one can anticipate that when participating crews arrive in a future theater they will be much better prepared to work as one to defeat whatever threat awaits.

Special Thanks to the PAO of the 633 ABW, and entire associated team. Present, General H. Carlisle, Commander Air Combat Command USAF; General Antoine Crux, the French Air Force Inspector General; General Mark Welsh III, Chief of Staff USAF; Chief of the Air Staff (RAF), Air Chief Marshal Sir Andrew Pulford; General Frank Gorenc, Commander USAFE.

Todd Miller is an avid photographer and contributor to a number of Aviation media groups. Utilizing www.flyfastandlow.com as a personal “runway” it is Todd’s goal to reflect the intensity and realism of the military aviation mission, as well as the character and commitment of the military aviation professional.

 

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GoPro video: aboard French Rafale dogfighting alongside RAF Typhoons and US F-22s during TrilatEx

Join a French Air Force Dassault Rafale during a Trilateral Exercise sortie.

Underway from Dec. 2 to 18, the inaugural Trilateral anti-access/area denial exercise sees U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor, Royal Air Force Eurofighter Typhoons and French Air Force Dassault Rafale, teaming to improve the way allied air forces can fight in a highly-contested scenario made of layered long-range air defenses (like the super-Missile Engagement Zone established by the Russians in Syria…)

The TrilatEx also features some Red Air forces, i.e. “Bad Guys” in the form of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles and the Langley-based T-38 Talons that always train against the Raptor stealth fighter).

Note: the Rafales operate without external fuel tanks, that would limit the maximum load factor to 5.5 g, moreover, during the engagements, one of the French “omnirole” planes can be seen releasing flares to deceive a (simulated) IR-guided air-to-air missile.