text by Frank Boucot and pictures from Rory Kanter
After a rather cheap 2015 edition, in Konya, turkey, involving only the locals and a bunch of French Rafales and polish F16s, this years Nato Tiger Meet, held in Zaragoza (Spain) from May the 16th to may the 27 th, was the biggest ever, with more than 90 plane involved, even if many participants are currently performing air operations in the Middle East or Africa. Most of the tiger units made the trip, along with tankers, Awacs and Helicopters. Such an attendance was made possible by the huge size of Zaragoza Air Base, built in 1937 but used, expanded and modernized by USAF, using the station between 1953 and 1992. To house Strategic Air Command’s B47s, USAF’s F86 Sabre, F102 Delta Daggers, and later F111s, F16 and KC 135, a gigantic infrastructure has grown, with noteworthy two large parallel runways (respectively 3000 and 3700 m), and very large approns, still remainig today. The operationnal part of the base is now mainly located in the northern side , with Ala 31 flying Hercules (and quite soon A400) and the EF 18 M from Ala 15, an operationnal unit also in charge of formation on this plane. The southern side is currently devoid of permanent resident, and offers many room to welcome a Tiger Meet, in its highest level of attendance…which was precisely the case…. The airfield also houses a civil Airport, with quite a heavy traffic since Zaragoza is an important business city in Spain.
As a matter of fact, units from fifteen nations attended this edition, being one of the most important European yearly exercises, along with Frisian Flag and to a certain extent, DACT in Gando. Held in 1961, the first edition’s main goal was to make the first settlers (79th TFS, USAF, 74th Sqn, RAF, and EC 1/12, FAF…both now disbanded) know each other), meet together and thus building better relationships ; NTM later shifted to social events. To ensure its legitimity, and thus its survival, in a context of budget restrictions, NTM became (from 2009 edition) a two – weeks exercise, COMAO oriented. Air ops are organized through a rather fixed pattern : briefing the day before, then a Shadow wave taking off in the morning, for a specific mission, designed to answer the needs expressed by whatever participant. The afternoon mission is the big one, a COMAO (COMbined Air Operations) where everyone tends to achieve the common objective ordered, some of them being Blue Air, the others being Red Air (agressors).
This year’s participant
Permanent Member since 2008, six EF 18 M from the local unit, Ala 15 were involved in the exercise. Unlike other participants, these planes were operating from their usual apron, in the northern part of the base. Escuadron 142, from Ala 14 (Albacete) sent six Eurofighter Typhoon. Full member since 1986, the unit was previously Flying Mirage F1 French participation was high, despite a very busy schedule, due of operations in the Middle East, among others. French Air Force was represented by CEAM (EC 1/30 Côte d’Argent), with two Mirage 2000 D. No Rafale for this edition, and no Mirage 2000 C as well, since this version is not developped anymore, being obsolescent and on its way to withdrawal. Two others Mirage from 3e Escadre (Nancy Ochey) were sent, as back ups, to implement the formation. French Navy sent no less than 6 Rafale from 11e Flotille. This unit has been recently involved in operations against ISIS, hence bomb markings adorning some of the planes. Undoubtly, this unit is hardened, since it won the « best flying ops » trophy… Two Hawkeye were deployed as well…the second sent due to the heavy technical issue grounding the first one…. French ALAT sent two Gazelle, from 3e Régiment d’Helicoptères de Combat (Etain). This unit is not currently a member of the association, but it may gain a probatory member status, in the near future
- Other participants
Turkey : 5 F16 C/D Block 50 (192 Filo, Balikesir)
Greece : 4 F16 C/D Block 52 + (335 Mira, Araxos)
Germany: 8 Eurofighter (TaktLwG 74, Neuburg), along with 2 Tornado (TaktLwG 51, Jagel). The latter doesn’t seem to have participated in flying ops, and just performing a visit during the spotter day.
One of the Eurofighter was specially painted for the event, the others being adorned with a special insignia on the tail. The belgians acted the same way…
Belgium : 8 F16 A/B Mlu from 31 Smaldeel, Kleine Brogel
Hungary : 5 JAS 29 C/D Gripen (59/1 Puma Squadron, Kecskemet)
Czech Republic : 4 JAS 29 C/D Gripen (211 Tacktcka Letka, Caslav) and 2 Mil 24 Hind (221 Letka Bitevnich Vrtulniku, Namest)
Poland : 6 F16 C/D Block 52 (6 Eskadra Lotnictwa Tactycznego, Poznan).
Norway : Six F16 A/B MLU (338 Skvadron, Orland)
Swiss : 5 F18 C/D (Fliegerstaffel 11, Meiringen). Noteworthy is the fact that Swiss is the only participating country not member of OTAN, hence its traditionnal neutrality.
Italy : 2 AB – 212 ICO (21° Gruppo, Grazzanise)
UK : 1 Puma HCS (230 Sqn, Benson)
Misc : Awacs From Otan (Geilenkirchen), Local Hercules (Ala 31), Learjet (GFD, subsidiary from EADS)
The Awards…for the record
Best Looking Tiger Uniform : 21 Gruppo, AMI. Italian clothes are world famous…
Best Looking Tiger Aircraft : 221 LtBvr, czech Air Force, and its « Alien Tiger » Hind
Best Skit : 338 Skvadron, Royal Norvegian Air Force
Best Flying Ops : 11e Flotille, aéronvale française : the unit is highly trained by current war air operations in the Middle East
Silver Tiger : 31 Smaldeel, BAF… for the eighth time !!!
French 11e Flotille, Flying Rafale, is due to organize the next event, in 2017, at Landivisiau (Britanny)… another milestone in its busy timetable. EC 3/30 Lorraine, stationned in Mont De Marsan and now flying Rafale, should attend this next Tiger Meet for the first time, being the new holder of the traditions of one of the pionner founders Tiger Meet : escadrille SPA 162, originally from EC 1/12 Cambresis (based in Cambrai) then for a short time, after the closure of Cambrai Air Base, in 2012, part of EC 1/7 Provence (St Dizier). So Yes, Mont de Marsan Air Base hosts two Tiger Squadrons : EC 1/30 (an operationnal Evaluation Unit), and, as mentionned, the new EC 3/30 Lorraine.A very good reason to hope a Tiger Meet in sunny southwestern France….sometime !
Many thanks to the Spanish Air Force and the Ala-15 staff to have permited this report. Thank you also to Frank and Rory to have made it !