report by: Thierry Letellier
The 50th NATO Tigers meeting (NTM 2011)is hosted this year by Escadron de Chasse 01.012 at Cambrai-Epinoy Air Base (Base Aérienne 103) in the north of France. This year was the event’s 50th anniversary. The first ‘Tiger Squadron’ meeting was in 1961 when the USAFE’s 79th TFS flying F-100D Sabres from RAF Woodbridge in Suffolk invited the Lightning’s from 74 Squadron at RAF Coltishall to their air base. For the following year’s meeting French Air Force Super Mystere B2s from Cambrai ( France ). The Dutch, Hungarians and Norwegians were the notable missing squadrons. Despite this, over 60 fixed wing aircraft and helicopters were involved drawn together because of their common squadron emblem: a tiger.
The two week flying program consisted of air-to-air and air-to-ground and a wide variety of support missions, comprising Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) and large Combined Air Operations (COMAOs). The host nation was responsible for overall planning of the exercise. For NTM 2011 the mission planners and tasking staff of the exercise emphasized the important training element and the scope of the exercise; “The very high number of air vectors and the variety of the missions provide a very useful training context. In addition to the aircraft deployed at Cambrai, we can also combine GBAD (Ground Based Air Defence) equipment, electromagnetic jamming systems with live feedback. This allows us to study each operation in minute detail”. The use of ‘Liaison 16’ (Data Link 16), was used to supervise the air situation in real time. The technical staff was able with this tool, to compare the missions planned with the ones actually carried out. Everybody learns a lot from the results and it will certainly be usefull when the crews will return to their own base. Here is a list of all the identified squadrons during this Tiger Meet édition:
EC 1/12 (FAF) BA 103 Cambrai Mirage 2000C/B
ECE 5/330 (FAF) BA 118 Mont-de-Marsan Mirage 2000C/B
221 LtBVr (CzAF) Námest Mi-24 Hind
AG 51 ‘I’ (GAF) Schleswig-Jagel Tornado IDS
211 TL (CzAF) Cáslav AFB JAS-39C/D Gripen
21° Gruppo (ItAF) Grazzanise AB-212ICO
1 JTS (AAF) Flh. Vogler Saab 105Öe
JaBoG 32/1 (GAF) Lechfeld Tornado ECR
192 Filo (TuAF) Balikesir AB F-16C/D Block 30 Fighting Falcon
335 Mira (HAF) Araxos F-16C/D Block 52+ Fighting Falcon
6 ELT (PolAF) Poznan-Krzesiny AB F-16C/D Block 52 Fighting Falcon
Staffel 11 (ChAF) Meiringen F/A-18C/D Hornet
Esq 301 (PoAF) BA5 Monte Real F-16A/B MLU Fighting Falcon
1 Lt (SvkAF) Sliač MiG-29 Fulcrum
Helicopters also play a part in this predominantly fast jet exercise this year two nations flew rotary aircraft. The Italian Air Force were tasked with Combat Search and Rescue (CSAR) operations with Special Forces support and Non-Combatant Evacuation operations. The Czech Air Force provided force protection with a pair of Mil Mi-35 ‘Hinds’ from 221 Squadron based at Namest.For the first time in the Tiger Meet history, a unit of the Special Forces has been integrated to the exercise. The 1st Marines paratrooper regiment (1st RPIMA) from Bayonne operated a hundred kilometres away from Cambrai. Every day their mission was that of Close Air Support (CAS) using high-tech equipment including; Vector goggles to acquire GPS coordinates and multi-emission radios to liaise directly with pilots. The Special Forces used their expertise in varied scenarios of CSAR, including one of a simulated pilot ejection in a hostile territory.Traditionally at least one aircraft from each attending squadron will be painted in a special colour scheme with tiger markings, some are painted in elaborate bright colours while others are more subtly painted in low-viz ‘tiger’ themed schemes. It was pointed out that the high-viz schemes do not affect their ability to conduct air-to-air operations as today’s scenarios are mostly conducted Beyond Visual Range (BVR). The ‘Tiger’ spirit of camaraderie also spreads to the pilots and groundcrew, helmets, clothing and equipment, all can be found to have black and gold tiger stripes applied, belying the serious nature of the exercise. Since those early days the NATO Tiger Association as it became known has grown to 21 full members, plus two probationary and 11 honorary members. The Hellenic Air Force’s Mira 335 arrived with their relatively new Lockheed F-16 Block 52M Fighting Falcons and were promoted to full member status. In later years NATO squadrons have been admitted with other large cat emblems apart from that of the traditional tiger, the Portuguese Air Force’s Esquadra 301 for example are known as the ‘Jaguares’ and attended this year with General Dynamics F-16A MLU Fighting Falcons. After the end of flying operations on Thursday May 19 various ‘Tiger Trophies’ were awarded for six mostly frivolous team bonding categories, the Portuguese were the most successful scooping three, the ‘Silver Tiger Trophy’, the ‘Best Flying Unit’ and the ‘Best Skit’. The Armée de l’Air’s Escadron de Chasse et d’Expérimentation 05.330 from Mont-de-Marsan won the prize for the ‘Best Looking Uniform’. The ‘Most Fancy Paint Scheme’ award was given to Aufklärungsgeschwader 51 from based at Schleswig-Jagel for their specially painted black Tornado IDS (45+51). Finally Fliegerstaffel 11 of the Swiss Air Force were the ‘Tiger Games’ winner. Many friendships were renewed during the exercise along with the serious aspect of forging close seamless working relationships within NATO.
All the staff of EC-12 was satisfied that the event went well. “The whole personnel from the “Cambrésis” fighter squadron can really be satisfied with the work they have achieved over the last few weeks. The exercise we were assigned was carried out well. We were able to come up to all the participants’ expectations”. The operational objectives have been reached and we gained a lot from the missions completed.” For fifty years, the Tigers community has been gathering every year for the most important joint and combined air exercise in Europe. For fifty years, the Tiger Spirit has been perpetuating around values like fraternity, bravery and respect. Once a Tiger, always a Tiger!” Friday was departures day for the aircraft most leaving during the morning and the final exercise to be held at this historic air base had ended, Cambrai is scheduled to close in 2012 and the future of SPA 162 the original Tiger Squadron is uncertain.