report by: Harry Morrow
The Navies of USA and France have concluded a “historic combined exercise” as the last French Navy Rafale jets took of from the flight deck of US Navy aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77). The exercise, named Chesapeake 2018, began in April this year at Naval Air Station Oceana and continued at sea, resulting in a full integration of the French navy air wing into a single, unified carrier air wing. The at-sea portion of the training lasted from May 7-18 and included the French Carrier Air Wing, Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW) 8, and embarked staff from Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2. “The French sailors acclimated very well to the US carrier and the environment because of their experience operating off the Charles De Gaulle,” said Capt. Sean R. Bailey, Bush’s commanding officer.
This mission resembled a friendly French invasion: the French Navy carrier air wing, composed of some 350 sailors, 12 Rafale fighter aircraft and 1 E-2C Hawkeye will deploy for eight weeks, from 4 April to 25 May, to Naval Air Station (NAS) Oceana and NAS Chambers Field. The Rafales belong to squadrons 11F, 12F, and 17F based at NAS Landivisiau, in Brittany, France, and the Hawkeye hails from squadron 4F based in NAS Lann-Bihoué, also in Brittany. While operating in the United States, these aircraft, their aircrew, and their ground crew will be integrated in the U.S. Navy’s Carrier Air Wing Eight (CVW-8). Following a month of tactical training of increasing complexity and intensive field carrier landing practice, the French air wing will embark for two weeks on board the USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77) with CVW-8.
Together the two air wings will conduct carrier qualifications and advanced tactical training, including live fire drills. For the first time, French Rafales will be launched from a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier with live ordnance under their wings that came from the U.S. ammunitions stock. This deployment is driven partially by routine maintenance for France’s only aircraft carrier—the Charles DeGaulle . Every ten years she must undergo an 18-month overhaul. During that time, French pilots and naval flight officers lose their currency in the specialized environment of flying from an aircraft carrier at sea.
. Having the opportunity to live, interact and work together created strong bonds and friendships between the US and French sailors, which consequently, was an essential component for such success during this underway.” A total of 301 French sailors embarked onboard the Bush to maintain naval aviation proficiency and develop their expertise for real-world multi-national operations. The exercise presented multiple combat scenarios including cyclic flight operations and combat search-and-rescues in addition to completing a series of arrested landings and launches by both countries’ aircraft, totaling 458 sorties and 752 traps, which resulted in 724.5 flight hours.
During the exercise, more than 180 training evolutions and missions were accomplished onboard the ship, demonstrating the cooperation and interoperability of both navies. Chesapeake 2018 builds on previous cooperation between the two countries in carrier strike operations. In June 2016, Adm. Richardson presented the Charles De Gaulle (R-91) with a U.S Meritorious Unit Commendation for their success of being the only non-US Navy entity to take command of US Naval Forces Central Command’s Task Force 50 during operation Inherent Resolve. Chesapeake 2018 is named for the historic battle of Chesapeake during the Revolutionary War during which French naval ships cut off British supply lines to General Charles Cornwallis’ army in Yorktown, Virginia.