21 April 2017NATO bridges air combat generation gap

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Royal Air Force Typhoons have notched up a historic first at one of the world’s largest air combat exercises.

The jets of 1 (Fighter) Squadron are flying with the US F-35 Lightning II as part of a combined force that is engaging with ‘aggressor’ squadrons. The US F-22 Raptor and the French Rafale make up the rest of the ‘blue forces’ on Exercise Atlantic Eagle 17. It is the first time the ‘next generation’ F-35 has worked alongside all three Nato aircraft.

The exercise reinforces the Tri-Lateral Strategic Initiative agreed by the UK, US and France which will be re-signed by the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, today (20 April) at a ceremony at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, VA, where the exercise is based.

Exercises like this strengthen the unshakable bonds between the air forces of our nations which have stood the test of time and remain central to our collective security,” said Wing Commander Chris Hoyle, Officer Commanding 1 (F) Sqn based at RAF Lossiemouth, Moray.

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The UK will be taking delivery of 138 of the F-35s from Lockheed Martin for both the RAF and the Royal Navy, to use on its Queen Elizabeth Class aircraft carriers.

The F-35 is a highly capable aircraft and operating alongside it on this exercise gives the RAF a taste of what to expect when the F-35 is introduced into frontline service with the UK Armed Forces,” added Wg Cdr Hoyle.

Exercise Atlantic Eagle 17 presents the RAF, US Air Force and Armée de l’Air with scenarios that replicate a highly contested operational environment. They are flying together in a variety of complex, simulated air battles against F15E Strike Eagles and T-38 Talons, both highly effective aircraft.

As well as working on their flying tactics and procedures, the three air forces are refining the software that allows their aircraft to electronically ‘speak to each other’. It is this ‘digital bond’ that allows the differing capabilities of the Typhoon, Rafale, F-35 and F-22 to be used to maximum effect.

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Image: Sgt Sarah Francis overseas the removal of a 1(F) Sqn Typhoon wing apex panel during routine maintenance of the Squadrons aircraft.

This synergy is what we call a force multiplier,” said Group Captain Paul Godfrey, the Station Commander of RAF Lossiemouth, who is also flying on the exercise. He had recently returned from a scenario which resulted in a highly successful ‘kill rate’.

He said: “The F-15s and T-38s kept coming at us but with all of the aircraft capabilities that we had available to us it was amazing to see how it all fitted together and how lethal we were.”

British industry also contributes to the F-35 project with BAE Systems contributing to the airframe and Rolls-Royce providing a major part of the vertical landing and take-off F-35 variant. Many other British companies make sub-systems for the aircraft.

© Crown copyright 2017

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