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Skyros exceptional training mission for French Air Force in the United Arab Emirates


From January 24 to 28, 2021, French airmen deployed as part of the Skyros mission stopped in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) where the Air and Space Force is permanently stationed. During this stage, the crews had the opportunity to participate in an air exercise, focused on the Entry Force *, mobilizing 41 aircraft including ten French Rafales.

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Skyros exceptional training mission for French Air Force in the United Arab Emirates Airbus A330 MRTT and Rafale fighters  (Picture source: French MoD)


"It has been years since I saw so many planes in the air," Lt. Col. (LCL) Cyril, commander of the Rafale detachment during the Skyros mission, smiles. On January 26, 41 aircraft of all types took off in the skies of the Persian Gulf and reached, in less than 10 minutes, an air combat training area 200 nautical miles long by 100 wide, offering conditions of exceptional workouts. The UAE Air Warfare Center (AWC) was on the move. This structure, in which the French are incorporated, designed the scenario for this exercise with a complex tactical framework.

“The four Rafale and the Airbus A330 MRTT participating in Skyros took part in a COMAO ** (Composite air operations) alongside six Rafales from the 1/7 “Provence” fighter squadron, four American F-15s, an A330 MRTT, two Gulfstream A660s, one “Predator” drone, two Apache helicopters, four UAE F-16s and four Mirage 2000-9s and two teams of forward air traffic controllers (JTAC - Joint Terminal Attack Controller)” explains the LCL Cyril. Together they formed the allied force, known as the "blue air". They had to face air threats from the "red air", the opposing force, made up of four F-16s, four Mirage 2000-9s, two F-15Es and two UAE AH-64E Apache helicopters and different real ground-to-air systems, auguring high-level combat. intensity.

The mission of the day: to simulate deep strikes on objectives protected by a Patriot ground-to-air defense system while ensuring close air support for the benefit of allied troops on the ground.

To do this, each actor in the raid has a well-defined role. The first to enter enemy airspace are responsible for gaining air superiority as quickly as possible, they are called sweeps. They are responsible for destroying or repelling all air-to-air threats to allow bombers, called strikers, to reach their firing range in order to neutralize the assigned objective (s). However, in a strongly defended territory, to acquire air superiority also means to guard against any ground-to-air threats. It is in this capacity that aircraft dedicated to the SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defense) mission are employed. Often positioned in the middle of the Raid, other planes take on the "swing role" cap. These omnirole fighters juggle between air-to-air combat and ground attack, a notorious specialty of the Rafale.

The helicopters are responsible for close air support (CAS) for the benefit of allied ground troops. Defenseless, fighter planes are necessarily dedicated to their protection. Such a mission can last a few hours, and to ensure sufficient time in the area for the fighter aircraft, the air tank is essential. This is where the Phoenix comes in. It is positioned away from any enemy threats. The A660, an aerial watch, was responsible for collecting intelligence.

In this high spectrum of air conflicts, all this maneuver, these missions within the mission, must be orchestrated down to the second. It is necessary to be able to adapt to all the scenarios foreseen during the preparation and the briefing. Therefore, a conductor at the head of the raid is necessary and it is the 1/7 "Provence" which has been appointed to arm the role of the Mission Commander (mission leader).

After 1h15 of hard fighting, the blues and reds returned to dry land. Once posed, participants attended the debriefing provided by the AWC. Using dedicated software, the recording of the mission was projected onto a giant screen. So all the actors visualized the fight minute by minute. The crews then became aware of the number of aircraft in flight during the mission. The key points of the training were identified allowing lessons to be learned from the tactical choices of the day, or even from the mistakes made. "We are very satisfied with this mission," said LCL Cyril. We were able to benefit from the co-location of all these aircraft and actors, the preparation facilities offered by the AWC but also the size of the UAE's flight zones ".

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* entry first when an operation is triggered

** COMAO: complex formation of different aircraft carrying out missions with several objectives