Entente-cordiale reaches new high level
With a keen eye on the future HMS Queen Elizabeth Carrier Programme, a Fleet Air Arm Airborne Surveillance and Control Squadron, working with the French Navy’s Carrier Air Group, (CAG) on a major French Navy Air Defence exercise has proved an outstanding success.
The 849 Naval Air Squadron deployment of two Sea King Mk7 Airborne Surveillance and Control (SKASaC) helicopters facilitated participation in a multi-national Air Defence exercise with the French Navy Carrier Air Group (CAG) and a Squadron of Swiss Air Force F /A-18 D Hornet fighters. Four Squadrons make up the French CAG: two of Rafale fighters, (11F & 12F), one of Super Étendard fighters (17F) and a E2-C Hawkeye squadron (4F) which provide carrier strike and airborne early warning for the Flagship of the French Navy, the French nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, FS Charles de Gaulle.
Operating from the French Naval Air Station at Landivisiau in Brittany the pair of Sea Kings from Royal Naval Air Station Culdrose cemented further, long-established links in Anglo-French relations. The deployment was fully integrated within the Air Defence Exercise and supported by not only the superb logistical support with host nation infrastructure, but also from the French CAG Operational Planning Staff, who planned and executed the joint exercise.
Integration was fundamental between the two nations and the employment of the SKASaC in the core role was a key enabler. This included fighter control training missions for the CAG strike assets on their way to attack naval surface vessels from France and the UK, providing some of the highlights during the training. The Air Defence Week exercise is part of the operational work-up that the French CAG has to complete before joining up with the FS Charles De Gaulle and being declared ready to deploy.
“This exercise proved an excellent opportunity for SKASaC and its air surveillance and fighter control capabilities”, said Lieutenant Commander Jim Hall, Senior Observer of 849 NAS. “We achieved a significant amount on so many levels. A comprehensive Airborne Surveillance and Control training programme provided the basis for the mission profiles, as well as continuation training for 854 NAS and the achievement of the Operational Conversion Phase for three ab-initio aircrew students who will be deploying in the near future on Operations. It also proved an excellent chance to re-establish links with the E2-C Hawkeye Squadron who are affiliated to 849 NAS.”
Overall the Sea Kings achieved over 40 hours flying and completed 16 mission sorties conducting control of the Carrier strike (CS) assets, with mission profiles including Maritime Strike missions and Composite Air Operations (COMAO) against ground targets.
Captain Mark Garratt, Commanding Officer of RNAS Culdrose, took the opportunity to visit the detachment and secure closer links with his French counterpart at the French Naval Air Station Landivisiau ‘We can learn a great deal from each other. This exercise has proved the mutual benefit to be gained from working closely together in challenging operational scenarios.”